“I need a direction,” mumbles Vin Diesel early in Riddick. You said it, big guy… but don’t let the whiff of self-awareness dupe you into thinking David Twohy’s threequel is the route map Diesel’s sci-fi anti-hero needs.
With its low-ish budget, Riddick could have been the lean space-shocker that fans of 2000’s series-starter Pitch Black wanted. But it more often repeats the errors of 2004’s sequel The Chronicles Of Riddick, devolving into a slow, sloppy mess made even messier when its misogyny bites.
Pitch Black worked partly because it saw the value in keeping anti-heroes and monsters mysterious. Chronicles didn’t because Riddick isn’t enough of a character to hold the centre, but Twohy hasn’t learned.
Casting Riddick adrift on a predator-infested planet sounds like a template for tension on paper, but the survivalist opening scenes drag like Riddick’s drawling diction in practice. Failing to restore mystique to Riddick or Patrick Tatopoulos’ alien designs, the cheesy CGI critters and weary post-Chronicles expository guff inspire little but the desire to see Twohy kick-start the story.
Which never quite happens. The arrival of two chafing bounty-hunter teams sparks a manhunt, but the often-absurd script slumps fast into sausage-fest bickering and brazen sexism. Katee Sackhoff’s lesbian Dahl is bad-ass, but she’s mostly here for Jordi Mollà’s daft villain Santana, Riddick and - pointless tit-shot alert – Twohy to drool over.
By the time Twohy lurches into base-under-siege turf, interest has waned. And it wanes again as the aliens prove too easily killed to scare, and again with twists involving forgotten Pitch Black sub-plots.
Twohy tries to take up the slack by framing Riddick as a mythical macho-man, but no slo-mo shots of alien-goring gymnastics and anti-hero swagger can cloak Diesel’s struggle to make him interesting. And whoever thought Riddick’s crass parting shot to Dahl might help matters needs more than direction. A slap, perhaps?
Too stodgy for B-movie suspense, too silly to shock, too sexist to stomach, Diesel’s return misfires. Where’s Xander Cage when you need him?