(On Cable TV, July 2014) I’m constantly nonplussed at the insistence on making Riddick an ongoing SF franchise. Sure, I was an early fan of Pitch Black. Of course, I really like Vin Diesel. It goes without saying that I wish writer/director David Twohy the best in his career. But after the messy incoherence that was The Chronicles of Riddick, we’ve seen the best that universe had to offer, and it’s something best let go. Not that Riddick is overly enamored of its predecessor either: It’s impressively dedicated at erasing the memory of the previous entry, quickly and definitively putting Riddick back in his favorite environment: battling nature and human opponents on a planet where survival seems unlikely. The first twenty minutes of the film go by with nearly no dialogue, all the better to demonstrate against how much of an invulnerable bad-boy Riddick can be. By the time a “mercenary station” (WHAT???) is reached and two competing teams land to vie for Riddick’s head, the film settles into a comfortable B-movie routine. There are, to be fair, a few good moments here and there. By stripping down to the basic essentials of a survival thriller, Riddick judiciously focuses on its lead character and goes back to straight-up suspense rather than the nonsensical extended mythology of the second film. Other actors get a chance to try to equal Vin Diesel’s usual intensity: There’s a nice rivalry between Matthew Nable and Jordi Mollà as the rival mercenary leaders, while Katee Sackhoff gets to be a little bit more than just “the girl” in the script. Of course, there’s little suspense regarding Riddick’s fate – it’s the kind of film to be watched to see what the protagonist will do to his enemies. (In most movies, we fear when a protagonist is in chains and threatened. In this one, we sit back and anticipate the carnage.) Of course, Riddick is a movie for fans –essentially an attempt to gain operating capital for the next installment. As such, it’s a bit bland, a bit competent, a bit ridiculous and a bit enjoyable. There may or may not be another installment in the series –I don’t particularly care, which is actually a step up from how I felt at the end of the previous film.
(In theatres, August 2009): The good news about this latest film from writer/director David Twohy is that it’s a pure genre thriller working solidly within the conventions of the genre. Unfortunately, this also means that it’s a thriller working against its own audience, lying to them in order to set up a surprise third act. That shouldn’t be a surprise given the script’s meta-humour about “red snappers” and second-act twists, but it’s not so impressive when one consider the contortions the script has to inflict on itself in order to put the audience where it needs them to be. There’s a technical term for those tricks, and it’s “cheating”. This being put aside, the film in itself isn’t a bad piece of suspense cinema: Characters and handled well, the cinematography takes full advantage of its Hawaii location and Twohy understands a few things about directing action sequences. As a piece of genre cinema, A Perfect Getaway is more engrossing than most, and the cheating required in order to deliver the twist may not bother some audiences. In fact, it may be better to know in advance that there’s a twist: If you feel, watching the film, that it’s focusing on the wrong characters, well… hold on to that idea and don’t let the film trick you out of it.
(In theaters, June 2004) Oh no; here I am, twisted between a bad film and a genre I love, a ridiculous script and a director who knows what he’s doing. In some ways, this film is the epitome of dumb people’s conception of bad SF. Would I be inclined to melodramatic statements, I’d probably say something like how it “sets back the general public’s perception of SF by decades”, except that Battlefield Earth already damaged the genre’s perception for years. On the other hand, I’ve professed my admiration for David Twohy just about everywhere else, and there’s no denying that he’s attempting something very ambitious here. Too bad that it’s pure bargain-basement nonsense: despite some nifty details here and there, this movie rarely makes sense and is content to rely on tired clichés (the Furian prophecy, the easy “victory by killing the head vampire”, etc.) rather than bring forth something new. It doesn’t help that the direction is just about as original as the writing. Scientifically, it’s all trash (don’t get me started on the impossible weather patterns of Crematoria), but that hardly matters given that the film veers more often in science-fantasy territory. As such, there’s something admirable about the grandeur of the visuals: even though the film’s design is singularly ugly, it’s big and bold. Much of the same could be said for Vin Diesel, who once again turns in a serviceable return performance as bad-boy Riddick, though he’s nowhere near the impact of his turn in the prequel Pitch Black. Judi Dench and Colm Feore spend the entire movie slumming in undignified and humourless roles. Still, there’s an undeniable appeal in seeing scorched-hot Thandie Newton vamp around in a snake-tight outfit, or even Alexa Davalos do her best with the usual “tough chick” shtick. So there I am, twisted between dull directing, bad writing, a love of the genre and respect for Twohy. What’s a critic to do?
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2005) Some movies improve upon a second viewing and some don’t. This one not only doesn’t, but actively suffers from the supplement of information that is to be found on the DVD. Sure, some of the action sequences aren’t bad, the art direction is imaginative and Vin Diesel has a screen presence that can do much to compensate for the material. But nothing can raise the quality of the atrocious script, nor make sense of the ridiculous excuse for a science-fiction story. In fact, the more information is presented to us, the less sense the film makes. Yikes. Don’t listen to the audio commentary!