By BRUCE DENNILL
Riddick / Directed by David Twohy / 16VLN
Vin Diesel’s range is not terribly impressive, but when he’s placed in a position where he’s allowed to play to his strengths – strong silent type; doesn’t mind a fight – he can be very effective indeed.
The Fast & Furious films that make up Diesel’s other major franchise, are not built for subtlety, so it’s easy for even a large, muscled bald man with a coal pit for a voice to fade into the mix. And after the disappointing middle film in this series (The Chronicles Of Riddick), a considerable step back after the brilliant opener Pitch Black and the restoration of Diesel to somewhere near the A-list after forays into trying to be funny and/or profound, the actor needed a platform that could help remind viewers of his capabilities.
Riddick uses the same formula as its prequels, it a couple of tweaks that add tension and intrigue. The title character is still stranded on an unfriendly rock somewhere out in space and is still surviving by his wits and his weird infra-red eyes. One avenue of escape proves to be a dead-end, and the other is hardly better, involving as it does getting past the sort of creatures last featured in popular entertainment when Hercules and Jason were around.
For a large part of the early stages of the film, Riddick is the only character, meaning that it’s possible – nay, essential – for audiences to properly connect with him. That he seeks and finds companionship of a sort is equally essential in balancing the character, who is, remember, a violent escaped convict
Director David Twohy cleverly allows all of that warm fuzziness (it’s relative; Jodi Picoult this is not) to build up before ensuring that Riddick has to get back in touch with his inner skull-crusher by introducing another way for his protagonist to get off the planet – the spaceships of those coming to the planet. Scorched by several suns and monster-ridden as it is, the only reason to aim for the place on purpose would be to look for treasure – in this case the bounty still up for grabs for providing Riddick’s head on a stick.
Twohy’s palette is all bronzes and shades of black, a background into which Riddick is able to fade like a wraith. Cue what is essentially very high-class slasher fare, substituting vicious soldiers of fortune for high school jocks and a quiet man with a giant space hyena for a dog for Jason Voorhees. There is sustained knife-edge tension as Riddick allows his adversaries to make their own mess and then wallow in it.
Riddick is sci-fi without the tedious geekiness; action that appreciates the value of being deliberate and a special effects extravaganza that doesn’t feel false. For all of those reasons and a couple of others, it’s a film that delivers far more than most sensible viewers would (perhaps unfairly) expect.