GREG'S GRADE: C+
After the overblown, cartoonish mess of "The Chronicles of Riddick" (2004), writer-director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel get back to basics with "Riddick," all but ignoring the events of "Chronicles" to make a movie much more in the spirit of the original Riddick adventure, the low-budget "Pitch Black" (2000). But maybe too much in that spirit, as the new movie at times plays almost like a remake of the earlier one.
"Riddick" tells a lean, self-contained story aside from a couple references to characters and events of the previous films — characters and events that, if you're like me, you haven't thought about in nearly a decade.
Left for dead on a barren planet by the people he was left to rule at the end of "Chronicles," after deciding he'd rather search for his long-lost home world than rule, Richard B. Riddick (Diesel) must perform a little field medicine on his gruesomely broken leg and fight for survival against the local wildlife. Sure, he's a murderer and a dangerous, dangerous man, but he adopts a puppy — he can't be all bad, right? He eventually finds his way to some sort of abandoned outpost, and with a storm and a whole bunch of angry beasties on their way toward him, he activates an emergency beacon.
Two ships full of mercenaries answer the call. One group, led by a violent, unpredictable man named Santana (Jordi Molla) is interested only in collecting the rather large bounty on Riddick's head, a bounty that's worth double if they bring him back dead. The other is more professional-like, and its leader (Matt Nable) has been hunting Riddick for reasons unrelated to money.
So as in "Pitch Black," Riddick and the others begin as adversaries only to find they must cooperate to survive a threat greater than each other.
Though the "Fast and Furious" movies are his biggest moneymakers, Riddick remains Diesel's best role, and he slides back into it easily here. He's an intimidating presence, at his best when his deep, growling voice is at its most menacing and never scarier than when his arms hang in chains. Curiously, though, the movie is at its best when he's mostly offscreen, the suspense highest when Riddick toys with the mercenaries, killing three the first night. It would be better still if Twohy had made any of the mercenaries worth caring about. Then again, we're supposed to be cheering for their killer, so maybe not.
The monsters are a bit of letdown when they finally come, making the climax more than a little anticlimactic. That doesn't exactly leave the viewer wanting more, which is problematic when the ending all but comes with a "to be continued" tag.
Still, "Riddick" is a big step up from "Chronicles," with Twohy abandoning the failed epic scope of that movie and somewhat recapturing what made "Pitch Black" the cult hit it is.
Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity. 119 minutes.