Originally created 06/11/04

At the Movies: 'The Chronicles of Riddick'



The black-hearted anti-hero of the cult hit "Pitch Black" is back, but he's choking on Diesel fumes.

"The Chronicles of Riddick" is a grotesque piece of sci-fi claptrap that's begging to be laughed at but which cops too self-important a tone to make for a campily amusing space opera.

The movie is a bewildering assemblage of cartoonishly bloated visual effects, clumsily edited action sequences, boorish dialogue, lousy acting, and the dorkiest hairdos and costumes since "Battlefield Earth." It's all punctuated by Vin Diesel's stoic bruiser act, which had grown stale at least three movies ago.

Diesel returns as Riddick, the vicious killer with see-in-the-dark eyes who took baby steps toward redemption in 2000's "Pitch Black," a tale of crash survivors struggling to get off a planet overrun by fiendish creatures with a taste for human spareribs.

Also returning is writer-director David Twohy, who co-wrote and directed "Pitch Black."

While Twohy crafted a fresh, taut horror flick on a shoestring with the first movie, he dumps his big-budget resources down a hole with "The Chronicles of Riddick." Twohy piles on excess after excess, vainly struggling to infuse a thin story with life.

This time, Riddick is on the run from bounty hunters and as indifferent as ever to anyone's survival but his own.

Yet Riddick reluctantly finds himself battling for the future of good guys everywhere against a conquering horde of living-dead warriors called the Necromongers, who are giving the iron-boot treatment to planet after planet.

Riddick's new playmates include Colm Feore as the Lord Marshal, the top Necromonger meanie; Thandie Newton as Dame Vaako, a ruthlessly ambitious vixen, and Karl Urban as her irresolute hubby, a Necro commander; Linus Roache as the Purifier, a pseudo-cleric who "converts" fresh meat vanquished by the Necros; and Nick Chinlund as a mercenary out to capture Riddick.

Two "Pitch Black" survivors also appear. Alexa Davalos makes her feature-film debut as Kyra, a warrior babe embittered over her abandonment after Riddick saved her as a young girl in the previous movie. Keith David reprises his role as the holier-than-everyone monk who also made it off the "Pitch Black" planet.

The strangest presence here is Judi Dench as Aereon, a wispy specter from a race called the Elementals, who helps orchestrate Riddick's recruitment in the fight against the Necromongers. Aereon winks in and out of reality, and for all the classy resolve Dench brings to the role, more than once she looks as if she's hoping to vanish and rematerialize in a better movie.

With Dench's dignity and Diesel's monotony the movie's only elements of restraint, the other performers act with shrill flamboyance, especially Feore and Newton.

"Pitch Black" was a monster movie whose low budget dictated simple sets and opaque lighting that implied masses of creatures the filmmakers could not afford to construct. As in "Jaws" and "Alien," the mostly unseen beasties of "Pitch Black" enriched the sense of terror.

Twohy leaves nothing to imagination in "The Chronicles of Riddick." The result is proof again that more is often less when Hollywood tries to repeat a success.

"The Chronicles of Riddick," a Universal release, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language. Running time: 119 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.