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'Riddick' review: 'Cast Away' meets 'Aliens' with a wry and wicked wit

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Riddick

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“There are bad days. And then there are legendary bad days.” We may meet Richard Riddick on one of the latter, but Vin Diesel and company deserve a legendary good one.

"Riddick" brings us Vin Deisel once again defying the odds as only Riddick can, and this chapter’s wild ride deserving of any action/sci-fi fan’s time, and worthy of franchise fans’ affection.

Contrary to the sprawling, often-cumbersome "Dune"-like quality of its immediate predecessor (2004’s "The Chronicles of Riddick"), "Riddick" is compact, complex, visceral, and engaging throughout. Returning in many ways to its "Pitch Black" roots, "Riddick"’s tension derives mainly from its trapped milieu, with fully-developed character and operation on multiple levels. Elements introduced prior come back around later in intriguing ways (either amusing or horrifying as the case may be), and interpersonal cross-fire maintains a brisk pace amid the escalating environmental complications.

It’s great fun to experience Riddick and this astoundingly hostile planet in three stages. First, that we’re meeting him here in the first place is itself a puzzlement given that when last we saw him, Riddick had just ascended a throne. Yet here we are in "Cast Away" mode as Riddick accepts the probability that “not-Furya” is his permanent new home, assessing how this egregious circumstance came to be, and setting about familiarizing himself with the scenery in time not to starve or become himself dinner. (Viewers partial to canines can scroll to the bottom of this page for non-spoiling spoilers.)

When things escalate (an alarming term given what’s just transpired), we switch to a scrumptious variation on "The Thing." Riddick (in his own inimitable way) has summoned transportation, said transpo believing itself to be two teams of bounty hunters harboring visions of grandeur. A small band of campadrés, confined to a small outpost, being picked off one by one ~ and of course it’s Riddick himself in the titular role. Such unpleasantness for them, such delight for us, but hey, they had a choice, so…

And then finally when things escalate (!?!), we dive into full-on "Aliens" mode. And that is all I have to say about that.

All the while, elements from previous scenes and franchise installment keep winding their ways back around to present conversation, creating layers of complexity. Toss in a few elements that keep one guessing while never resorting to red herring (why exactly is that one guy here??), and co-writer/director David Twohy can count this production a success.

A huge personal draw to Riddick was Jordi Mollà. Though he spoke perhaps twenty lines of dialogue during the entirety of "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," his King Philip II remains one of my favorite elements and makes it a perennial favorite. Though voracious and irresponsible (dangerous qualities in a monarch), Mollà portrays him such that by the end of things, one almost feels sorry for him on a basic human level.

Clearly "Riddick" would be a major departure no matter what the character, and Mollà doesn’t disappoint. Here he’s bounty hunter Santana, captain of the first team to arrive, doing so with much bluster and bravado, taking a loud page from John Doe’s book as to things that can be done with a box.

The trouble for him ~ and the great fun for us ~ is that Santana is an overgrown adolescent, just powerful enough to be dangerous yet immature enough not to be able to see around corners. Or to respect personal boundaries, or to embrace the concept of cooperation. Thus he sustains several amusing beatdowns during the course of events, both verbal and otherwise. Mollà provides most of the comic relief without ever being funny, always keeping Santana menacing enough in his arrogance that simply being in his orbit means peril. He’s pet mouse to Riddick’s cat, and by the end of things, we almost feel sorry for him on a basic human level.

The remaining cast do a very fine job indeed; as with "Aliens," no one is fully realized as an individual, but the characteristics are drawn completely enough that we enjoy a sense of personality and identity… and miss them when they’re gone…

Special effects abound of course, achieved with great ferocity and believability, and offering up excellent hand-to-(?? whatever that thing is) combat that leaves us actually wondering who might prevail here, despite the full realization that we’re only five minutes into this thing and certainly Diesel will be sticking around. And when it comes to the third act, well… all bets kinda seem to be off… (those of us "Game of Thrones" and "Dexter" fans know never to assume anything, as writers these days can be quite the tricksters!)

Diesel himself is marvelous, period. He’s grown Riddick into a fully-realized individual capable of delivering a knockout punch of every kind, be it physical, intellectual, or emotional. Riddick used to be a form of evil used to fight evil, but he’s come through his unplanned vision quest as a noble figure.

Whether he’s become Hero or Antihero I’ll never tell here, but it’s very well worth your time indeed to find out for yourself.

Story: Left for dead (again) on a hostile planet in the subset "not-Furya," Riddick contends with the aggressive local fauna and two bands of bounty hunters, one intent on securing his head, the other intent on securing the information inside it.

Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi, Suspense/Thriller

Starring: Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Conrad Pla, Katee Sackhoff

Directed by: David Twohy

MPAA: R

Running time: 119 minutes

Official site: http://www.riddickmovie.com/

Houston release date: September 6, 2013

Tickets: Check Fandango.com or your local listings ~ and see it in IMAX if you can

Screened Sep 4th 2013 at the Edwards Marq*E IMAX in Houston TX

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The non-spoiling spoilers for dog people:

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Two canines do perish, but it’s never gratuitous. One is just by way of fate (think gazelle ~ hey, a cheetah’s gotta eat, too), and the pup is fine. There's a scene where we'll take great umbrage, but it's a non-lethal outcome, and if we're to be intellectually honest we can't blame Riddick for taking the steps necessary to his survival.

The other death, also not gratuitous, is truly heroic, as gallant and gutwrenching a scene as between any two human friends meeting the void in war. It comes in a hand-to-hand situation, so when you’re looking over distance, you can relax. When the moment comes, you’ll be able to see it coming and look away. And it’s fast. Difficult, but just strong drama.

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