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Sound and Furyan

 

The Chronicles of Riddick

David Twohy, USA, 2004

Rating: 2.3

 

 

Posted: June 14, 2004

By Laurence Station

David Twohy's sci-fi cult hit Pitch Black introduced the film world to cobra-lethal anti-hero Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel), considered one of the most dangerous and wanted men in the known universe. How bad is he? Riddick spends most of his time running from mercenaries looking to collect a bounty on his head, and his shaven head, muscular physique and surgically altered eyes (granting him an advanced form of night vision) cut an imposing figure.

In Pitch Black, a spacecraft carrying the captive crash-lands on a remote planet. Unfortunately for the marooned party, the planet is host to winged hammerhead creatures who come out at night and feast on anything with a heartbeat. Bad enough, but then an eclipse hits and the requisite Aliens pick-them-off scenario unfolds with only Riddick and two others -- Iman, a holy man (Keith David) and Jack, a girl posing as a teenaged boy (Rhiana Griffith) -- making it off the deadly world alive.

Fast-forward five years. Riddick is still on the run from bounty hunters. And a group of death-worshipping religious zealots called the Necromongers (well, at least their name isn't vague about their ideology or intentions) has arisen, wiping out planets, converting those who bow to them and annihilating the rest. Lord Marshall (Colm Feore), the Necromongers' leader, has had a vision that a member of the fiercely independent Furyan race will be his downfall. Thus, going King Herod one better, he wipes out the entire Furyan homeworld. Problem solved, right? Ah, but guess who one of the last known surviving Furyans is? If you haven't guessed our "just wants to be left alone" anti-hero Riddick, you haven't been paying attention.

Now, being that this movie is called The Chronicles of Riddick, and that this is but one of a proposed series of Riddick films (indeed, the recently released DVD version of Pitch Black has been renamed The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black, which begs the question of what they'll call this one when it arrives on DVD), there's little question who's going to win the inevitable showdown. It's how Riddick gets to that climatic battle that drives the film, and this journey involves a series of sometimes thrilling, mostly just plain silly action sequences. First, Riddick discovers Iman (the holy man he saved in Pitch Black) is tied to a bounty on his head. Heading to the world of Helion, Riddick confronts Iman with this information and is introduced to Aeron (Dame Judi Dench, trying to add a dash of Sir Ian McKellen cred to the proceedings), member of a race of elementals, behind-the-scenes operators seeking to maintain balance in the universe. Aeron chooses Riddick to fight the Necromongers, because sometimes you must fight evil with a "different kind of evil."

Riddick gets detoured, however, when he's captured by mercenaries and bound off to a hellish prison world. There he reunites with Jack, now called Kyra (Alexa Davalos), who's transformed herself into a Riddick-like lethal killer and is resentful that Riddick abandoned her after their escape at the end of Pitch Black. Will Riddick get a romantic interest? Not exactly, though there is genuine chemistry between the two characters.

The prison world excursion and subsequent escape are derivative but fun. What really drags Chronicles down are the scenes involving the Necromongers. Twohy shows us the race's awesome power, but fails to delve deeply enough into their origins or morbid mythology. Instead we're saddled with a cut rate Macbeth subplot involving an ambitious wife (Thandie Newton) and her reluctant warrior husband (Karl Urban), and the less-than-complicated machinations involving the overthrow of Lord Marshall. Such scenes drain all energy from the film; they're cheerless, banal and poorly fleshed out. Chronicles of Riddick would have been more successful if it stuck with Vin Diesel the entire way. What the brawny actor lacks in emotive range, he more than makes up for with an appealing, roughhewn charisma. When he's off-screen, Chronicles screeches to a grinding halt.

The special effects are a mixed bag of the visually impressive (the prison world that heats up to 700 degrees shortly after sunrise) and cheesy overkill (the tri-faced Necromonger ships and armor, and their excessively baroque décor). Twohy clearly knows how to stage an action shot (as Pitch Black amply proved) but at times the director lets too much plot get in the way of the thrill ride -- as when Riddick and Kyra, attempting to outrun the killer sunrise, encounter a group of Necromongers blocking their escape route and a battle ensues. Doesn't the rapidly rising temperature provide enough tension? The battle counteracts the dramatic impetus of outrunning the sun, as if nature itself took a timeout for the convenience of the filmmakers.

Chronicles of Riddick throws a lot of information at its audience (Necromongers, Riddick's mysterious past, scheming elementals) but fails to fully explore its various backstories. Perhaps a mini-series, or a less intricate/political Babylon 5-type space opera would better suit Twohy's ambitions for the material. As it stands, he's delivered a Summer action flick that's more talk than action, and a space opera that fails to hit a single high note.

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