‘Riddick’: Substance sacrificed for showy style

Ryan Perry, Entertainment Director

After nine years, Vin Diesel returns as the title character in Riddick, the third installment in writer and director David Twohy’s franchise. If you like testosterone-driven, male-targeted sci-fi action, Riddick holds up pretty well.
Pitch Black, the fist installment, was a decent stab at post-Alien sci-fi-horror, but The Chronicles of Riddick was a bit of a misfire, so Riddick could have gone either way. Luckily, Twohy returned Riddick to its roots.
The movie opens with Diesel’s signature anti-hero struggling to survive after being left for dead on a desert world devoid of civilization. The best portion of the movie is the first 30 minutes. It’s just Riddick against the elements, mapping out his surroundings and squaring off with CGI creatures, such as giant scorpion monsters and hyena-dog hybrids, one of which even becomes a pet.
When Riddick comes upon an outpost, he signals for help from passing spaceships, but what he finds instead is two parties of bounty hunters. The first party is led by Santana (Blow’s Jordi Molla), a fiendish figure. The second is led by Johns (Killer Elite’s Matt Nable), who brings with him Dahl (Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica). As the only important female cast member, Dahl holds her own against the rest of the cast’s hard-nosed brutes. Even though Battlestar ended four years ago, Sackhoff looks as though she just stepped off the set, and she delivers a dynamically interesting element.
The game of cat-and-mouse between Riddick and his would-be captors is exceedingly graphic in gore until the three factions ultimately unite to ward off the greater danger: the planet’s inhabitants. This arc of the story is fun to watch, but predictable and a bit of a bore. Each of these different subplots would make for a good Riddick movie, and Twohy should have focused in on one of them (preferably the first third of the film). Instead, the conglomeration of the three tends to drag on.
But hey, pacing isn’t what this movie’s trying to sell. Riddick dispatches his enemies in a manner that proudly earns the film its R rating. Fans of Quentin Tarantino will take delight in the graphic language and boundless gore, while Tarantino’s dark sense of humor is replaced with equally-graphic and gratuitous nudity.
If you’re looking for character development, you won’t find it here. Diesel doesn’t “act” in Riddick, but he does seem to be having fun with the role. What makes Riddick, watchable, being such a blandly-written character, is his ability to endure. He’s been betrayed, left for dead and hunted over the course of three movies, and he’s still trekking because it’s in his nature.
Yes, the movie has its flaws, but if you’re looking for a Riddick movie, this one is the best by far. It’s a fun ride, but Oscar season can’t come soon enough.