The Chronicles Of Riddick (2004)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 6/11/04
Producer: Vin Diesel
Music: Graeme Revell
Cast: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Alexa Davalos, Judi Dench, Keith David, Thandie Newton, Christina Cox

Vin Diesel returns as Richard B. Riddick in this sequel to the modestly well received "Pitch Black" (2000). A Borg-like group of warriors known as Necromongers are trudging across the universe, obliterating everyone and everything in their path in an attempt to reach the fabled "underverse." Judi Dench plays a wise and calculating air elemental who decides to fight evil with evil by enlisting the aid of the notorious Riddick. Apparently his race was the only one who stood up against the Necromongers before their world was annihilated. Riddick is naturally not pleased with his newfound friends and popularity, and goes about his business the best he can, leaving a trail of bodies and destruction in his wake. He also runs into some old friends from his adventure in "Pitch Black" with bittersweet results. Fate and destiny intertwine to bring Riddick and the Head Marshal of the Necromongers together for an uninspired fist fight of galactic importance.

Having never seen "Pitch Black," I think I can safely say that it was never intended to go beyond one film, and "The Chronicles Of Riddick" just reeks of a vanity project with all the trappings of sequelitis. Vin Diesel does a fine job playing Riddick, weaving together a believable character of moral complexity. He's a notorious and incredibly violent killer who follows his own strict moral code, but he's also a reluctant hero with a strong sense of justice. He also has the capacity for love and sensitivity, making him a very rich anti-hero. And then, of course, his physique is quite impressive. The one thing I can't get over is his dead-pan drawling delivery, which just makes him sound like a moron. Fortunately, he's able to mix it up and can be extremely threatening and commanding at times. Being yelled at by Vin Diesel is a tangibly scary experience. The secondary characters are entertaining, including the sexy and brooding Karl Urban as General Vaako, the dignified Keith David as Imam, and the feisty and beautiful Alexa Davalos as Kyra. Deliciously yummy Thandie Newton is on hand as seemingly the sole female Necromonger (she's effectively the Smurfette of the undead), and certainly the only one who doesn't wear black and silver body armor. She does, however, wear more eye makeup than I thought was humanly possible. She manages to pull it off, though (or maybe I was just distracted by her breasts). For girls with guns fans, Christina Cox does a wonderful job as a mercenary who's trying to cash in on Riddick's bounty. Judi Dench does an adequate job as an aristocrat, but I was left thinking "what the hell is she doing in this movie?"

Visually, the film looks good and the art direction is excellent. My only complaint would be that the editing is especially poor during the action scenes, where good editing is needed the most. The frantic battle scenes are jarringly incoherent, and the hand-to-hand fight scenes are spastically cut together with no sense of direction, pacing, or grace. The final showdown is a serious letdown because you can't even see the enemy most of the time. Story wise, the film plays out with all the charm and cheesiness of a classic sci-fi pulp film, with video game sensibilities. It's an enjoyable summer popcorn flick, but difficult to take seriously. The film also does a good job of tying into the video game, "Escape From Butcher Bay." A subtle, yet effective cross pollinization of genres. Sci-fi fans should be marginally pleased with the film.