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(2013) (Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla) (R)

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Sci-Fi: Trapped on a desolate planet filled with carnivorous monsters, a long-time escaped convict must contend with the arrival of various humans who want him captured for different reasons.
It's been years since convicted murderer Richard B. Riddick (VIN DIESEL) escaped mercenaries who had captured him only to crash-land on a hostile planet that yielded only a few survivors. Having escaped that only to eventually be named the leader of an alien race known as the Necromongers, Riddick has now been betrayed by them and left alone on a desolate, sun-scorched planet.

After surviving having a busted leg and repeated attacks by both hyena and monstrous scorpion type monsters, Riddick gets himself to a long abandoned outpost and signals its homing beacon. That results in the arrival of Santana (JORDI MOLLA) and his band of mercenaries that includes his right-hand enforcer, Diaz (DAVE BAUTISTA), and rookie Luna (NOLAN GERARD FUNK), among others, who want Riddick's head for the handsome bounty it will fetch them.

They're not the only ones interested in capturing Riddick, however, as Boss Johns (MATT NABLE) arrives with his crew that includes Dahl (KATEE SACKHOFF) and Moss (BOKEEM WOODBINE), although they want the long-escaped con for reasons beyond the price on his head. Yet, neither team is prepared for just how resourceful and wily Riddick is, or the danger both he and their new environs pose to them.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I have no idea which author first introduced the anti-hero, a character whose title immediately introduces the predicament facing whatever writer chooses to use such a figure in their work. After all, we all want to be saved by a hero or maybe even be one ourselves. And part of that's due to them going back to the very beginning of fiction where some such character overcame the obstacles facing them and ended up saving the day. That's certainly the appeal of and the reason behind the continued wild success of superheroes.

At the same time, many a person has some element of a dark side to them and thus find themselves attracted in some way to such figures. Granted, that's usually only as related to reading, seeing and/or hearing about them in some fictional tale. Yet, the very definition of such a character -- a protagonist who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities and usually acts in their own self-interest -- means we should also be somewhat (or a lot) repelled by them and their selfish, law-breaking and/or immoral actions.

That conflicting status, however, certainly makes them intriguing personas, and the history of written and filmed fiction is littered with them. Some have withstood the test of time and remain emblazoned in our cultural psyche, while others come and go, occasionally grabbing some attention before fading from the limelight. Others, such as Richard Riddick, couldn't be picked out of a police lineup by the general public, but have obtained something of a cult following by a certain segment of the populace.

If you fall into the former group, the character was the anti-hero star of the 2000 sci-fi thriller "Pitch Black." Played by a then relatively unknown Vin Diesel, the plot had the character as a convicted murderer being transported by a mercenary and his crew. Unfortunately for them, their spaceship crash-landed on a planet that -- despite its three suns -- was enveloped in the titular condition due to a month-long eclipse that also let the resident critters come out at "night."

While I found the film extremely derivative, it was certainly lean and mean, and viewers ended up rooting for the anti-hero to survive. It wasn't anywhere near a big hit (its worldwide gross was just a little north of $50 million), but it spawned a bloated and far larger budgeted sequel, 2004's "The Chronicles of Riddick" that only managed to double that global gross.

Now, nine years later, the anti-hero character has returned in "Riddick," a much leaner flick (both in terms of its titular length and overall production budget) that still isn't anything great, but clearly has its moments. What is also features is a protagonist who's lost some of his more unsavory anti-hero trappings and instead comes off as a survivalist who we root for simply by default due to his trappings, those (human and otherwise) who want him dead, and his snarky attitude toward his predicament.

Returning director David Twohy -- who shares writing credits with Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell -- starts off things with a bang as if somewhat filtered through the lens of "WALL-E." It's a tactic that actually works surprisingly well as Diesel's character is stuck on a sun-scorched planet with a busted leg and plenty of critters (large flying predators, hyena-type canines and gargantuan monsters that seem to be a mix between scorpions and those subterranean terrors found in "Tremors") that would like to make a snack of him.

Despite the obviously limited budget that renders some of the special effects, well, not so special (especially regarding some futuristic flying hogs -- they of the motorcycle and not swine variety), some of those early scenes are fairly taut and gripping, with an unexpected "man and his dog" type element adding some nice humanity to the mix. Unfortunately, the addition of more of the latter -- in terms of real people showing up -- only ends up diluting the overall effort.

Of the eleven people who touch down on the planet (the 12th, a female prisoner, doesn't make it very long), some are mercenaries (lead by Jordi Molla) who literally want Riddick's head (they've even brought along a box for just that) and the handsome bounty that will come along with it. The others are there for more personal reasons (all following Matt Nable), but that doesn't disqualify them from also being similarly styled, fierce characters. That includes Katee Sackhoff playing the "tough chick" type who can fight and swear just like the boys.

It's nothing we haven't seen before as both Riddick and some of the monsters pick off the characters one by one. That said, Twohy is wise enough to include humorous elements into the mayhem, albeit much of it grisly in nature, all the better for the fan-boys and fan-girls who are desirous of seeing the continuation of this series and its anti-hero. If you liked "Pitch Black" you might just find this a welcome return to form after the disappointing initial sequel. I found "Riddick" surprisingly good at the onset but with diminishing returns as it then plodded through familiar territory and a far too long, two hour running time. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed September 4, 2013 / Posted September 6, 2013

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