Taking a break from the cartoonish road antics of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, Vin Diesel goes back to his passion project, Richard B. Riddick, the killer with the glowing eyes, for a third outing simply titled “Riddick.” Simplicity does seem to be the goal here after the near miss of “The Chronicles of Riddick” in 2004, which fans of the character complained was too sanitized with its PG-13 rating. David Twohy, the director of all three installments in the franchise so far, has heeded their complaints and has taken the character firmly back into R-rated territory. Here is a film filled with cursing, bloody violence, the occasional gratuitous nudity, and a thin plot. Yep, it’s September all right.
Just like in “Pitch Black,” the very first movie from 14 years ago, Riddick is once again stranded on a scorching planet teaming with dangerous wildlife. After becoming king of the Necromongers, some obscure space conquerors, he was betrayed by Vaako (Karl Urban, on screen long enough to get a paycheck) the man next in line for the throne. Riddick thought he was being led to a his home planet of Furya, but as he puts it in his voice over it is a planet called “…not Furya.” Clearly, words are not this killer’s strong suit.
After spending the first 20 minutes of the movie surviving an array of dangerous CG creatures and even domesticating one that can only be described as some sort of space dingo, Riddick finds an abandoned building and a distress beacon. The beacon not only sends out a distress signal, but also identifies him as a wanted fugitive, so he does not get a rescue party so much as hunting party. Two ships land on the planet, the first commanded by Santana (Jordi Mollà), a bounty hunter who confidently announces his intention to put Riddick’s head in a box. The second ship is led by Johns (Matt Nable), a mercenary who has a personal history with Riddick and would rather capture him alive.
At first Riddick is content to kill off Santana’s men with the help of his trusty space dingo, but the weather changes everyone’s plans. Among the many nasty creatures living on the planet, the nastiest is a species of giant scorpion that lives in the water. Wouldn’t you know it, there is a giant rain storm on the way, and it rains so much thousands of those critters come out into the open to kill everything in their path. This leads to a razor-thin truce between Riddick and the bounty hunters until they can get off the planet in one piece.
The army of CG creatures aside, you would think this movie was made back in the 80s. You have a Latino actor playing the lead bad guy, a group of disposable grunts whose job is to get killed one by one, and a near-absence of female characters. Katee Sackhoff plays the tough-chick-with-a-gun, but of course she needs to get nearly rapped by Santana. She claims to be a lesbian, maybe as a ploy to alienate the tough guys she travels with, but either way Riddick somehow convinces her to shall we say, switch team by the story’s end. The few other women are there to either be naked in a flashback, or get killed by Santana.
As a franchise, Riddick has had a bit of limp takeoff. The first film was a decent low-budget thriller that made its money back, whereas the second one was a limp space opera with a bigger budget and less to show for. Yet the Riddick character lived on through successful video games and a made-for-DVD animated movie. Clearly Diesel and Twohy’s creation has its fans, and they should be very pleased with this third outing. Newcomers might be put off by the B-movie tropes and the treatment of the few women on screen, but the ending leaves the door wide open for more adventures of the gravel-voiced killer. He may yet have a truly memorable film. In the meantime, this one is just as good as the first one.