Eschewing the claustrophobic minimalism of its predecessor Pitch Black, David Twohy’s mega-budgeted The Chronicles of Riddick is an extravagant orgy of used sci-fi parts. A dash of The Matrix’s bullet-dodging antics, a dollop of Stargate’s Egyptian fetish, a sprinkle of Dune’s hippy-dippy spiritual lore, and voilà—the latest dispiriting summer splurge of incoherent action and pretentious mythologizing. Twohy’s direction consists of complementing his computer-generated panoramas of imposing armies and surreal alien landscapes by swathing each overly edited fight sequence in seizure-inducing strobe lights and by mystifyingly tilting his camera slightly sideways for reasons only he knows. Awash in fight and chase sequences in which excitement is inversely related to complexity, the film’s maddeningly frantic combat, assortment of diverse intergalactic locales and bevy of varied extraterrestrials create the impression (not unlike Van Helsing) that this globetrotting adventure was designed solely as the template for the obligatory tie-in video game.
Riddick’s story about free will versus enslavement is as goofy as it is mere pretext for jumbled, cheesy special effects-saturated pandemonium. On the run from bounty hunters, Riddick (Vin Diesel), a famed super-criminal with shiny silver eyes that allow him to see in the dark, makes his way to the African-inspired planet Helion Prime to confront a priest (Keith David) who had sold him out. Once there, however, he learns that there are more pressing matters at hand, such as the world-devouring race of alien conquerors known as the Necromongers who are about to convert the planet’s multicultural population into a race of mindless slaves beholden to a faith in the “Underverse,” a blissful, pain-free afterworld which the Necromongers hungrily seek. Diesel’s sarcastic antihero, unfortunately, is a hulking gorilla who’s primarily adept at flaunting his pumped-up physique and delivering snarling one-liners. Moreover, his self-serving nihilism is painfully insincere—he has an estranged lady friend that he adores and attempts to break out of jail, for crying out loud—and doesn’t jibe with the film’s desire to turn him into the chosen one destined to stop the Necrogmonger horde.
Twohy’s language-impaired script casts Riddick as the last surviving member of the Furion race (he’s furious!) who is sent to a prison on the 700-degree planet Crematoria (hot as a crematorium!) and battles the half-dead Lord Marshall (Colm Feore) of the Necromongers. Thandie Newton’s serpentine Dame Vaako—with her fetching golden scaled dress and heaving chest—does supply a welcome measure of seductive Lady Macbeth wickedness as the treacherous wife of a decorated Necromonger warrior (Karl Urban). But it’s tough to overlook the preposterous audacity of forcing the regal Dame Judie Dench—looking lost and confused as a ghostly “Elemental” prophet—to share an embarrassing early scene with the overmatched Diesel. “It’s been a long time since I smelled beautiful,” the bestial Riddick coos upon first getting a whiff of Dame Vaako. Apparently, he didn’t notice the more prevalent, putrid stink radiating from the film itself.