Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shades of grey

Third entry in sci-fi series isn't Pitch Black, but it has its moments

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The title Riddick is so much simpler and less pretentious than the title of the last entry in the franchise, The Chronicles of Riddick.

As goes the title, so goes the movie.

The character of space fugitive Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) was introduced in the nifty 2000 sci-fi entry Pitch Black, a kind of futuristic disaster movie in which Riddick, an intergalactic felon under the guard of an equally psychopathic cop, emerged as an unlikely hero.

In 2004, writer-director David Twohy steered the terse, violent protagonist into more mythic territory with The Chronicles of Riddick, which saw the big guy contending with a cult of super-warriors called "Necromongers," trading dialogue with Judi Dench, and ending up very much in the same neck of the genre woods as Conan the Barbarian.

In addition to being an unsatisfying hodgepodge, it was also rated PG-13 in the U.S., in a transparent effort to trade off some of the savagery for a shot at a wider audience.

Riddick quickly jettisons the excess mythic cargo -- and the PG-13 niceties -- in its first act, which sees the brooding brute betrayed by the Necromongers and left marooned on an especially savage planet to die. He doesn't seem especially upset by this. (Flashbacks of being lured to a giant bed by a bevy of naked courtesans registers as just another work obligation on the impassive face of King Riddick.)

Once he sets his own broken leg and snacks on a space vulture, he seems positively jubilant about "zeroing the clock" and getting back to basic survival. We understand that Twohy is also zeroing the clock and taking the character back to a Pitch Black-like story of wicked monsters and even more wicked men.

Hence, realizing there is only so far he can go on a planet populated by mutant dingoes and reptiles that can bite from either end, Riddick summons fellow humans to his planet when he comes across an abandoned human outpost.

Two ships come calling. One is stocked with scummy bounty hunters led by the repulsive Santana (Jordi Molla). The other contains a well-disciplined fighting force, including a beautiful lesbian warrior named Dahl (Katee Sackhoff recalls some of the more butch supporting femmes that popped up frequently in James Cameron movies of the '80s) and led by "Boss" (Matt Nable), a man with a connection to Riddick's past that might be summed up as ... awkward.

We know most of the cast will be picked off one by one, either by Riddick or by the aforementioned creatures. And as Riddick is really the only character with whom we have some investment, this is one of those movies that gives us lots of supporting roles for the purpose of inviting us to guess, who, when, and how they will be killed off.

Fortunately, Twohy is a pretty imaginative genre filmmaker, and on a fairly modest budget (roughly one-quarter that of Fast and Furious 6), he creates a nicely realized world of desert, rocks, toxic pools and slimy/fanged fauna.

He also knows how to deliver the B-movie goods, now that he is free from the more genteel obligations of a PG-13 classification.

Diesel seems to be enjoying his own freedom in returning Riddick to his badass roots, even if he doesn't get to do line readings with Dame Judi.

Taking a page from his hard-to-kill hero, Diesel will presumably survive.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2013 G1

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