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The Chronicles of

A few years ago, a little movie called Pitch Black snuck up on audiences. Featuring rising actor Vin Diesel as a criminal almost as frightening as the creatures he had to face in order to get off-planet, the movie was sharp, fast and fun. Diesel's Riddick certainly looked like a good vehicle for more adventure, and a sequel was a certainty.

As that sequel developed, Hollywood became enamored of the concept of the epic trilogy, forgetting that not every character and every director really has the chops for such a thing. And so we end up with the same team, writer/director David Twohy and producer/star Diesel, in the deep end of the pool, paradoxically fish out of water.

The Chronicles of Riddick still has a few things going for it, mainly Diesel and his attitude. But from the title alone, you know that the pretension level has kicked up a notch or five, something Riddick himself would disdain.

This time, the threat isn't some unknown predatory species that admittedly we'd seen before. Instead, it's a galactic empire called The Necromongers (probably spelled with a "K" for added mysterious Koolness). Twohy flounders horribly with this concept. So thinly drawn are The Necromongers, that it's just as likely that a fifth grade boy read Jack Kirby's New Gods, watched the second season of Starblazers, caught Dune on Sci Fi then went off to make up his own story to tell his friends. Hey, I've been there. But I didn't spend over a hundred million to do it.

Nor should the studio have forced Twohy to do it, either. When he gets down to what made Pitch Black work, there are moments of real pleasure. Riddick has spent five years on an ice planet avoiding the authorities, whoever they may be. (Evidently, that shifts around a lot.) When we first see him, he's Yeti-like, jumping over cracks in the ice avoiding mercenaries looking for a high bounty. If not quite exhilarating, it's still a sequence that shows that Twohy does have a comfort level and can still throw up good action as Riddick picks off his pursuers one by one.

Unfortunately, it's not the main plot. As the narration by Dame Judi Dench broadly hints, Riddick is the subject of prophecy. Only he can take down the Lord Marshal of the Necromongers (Colm Feore), a super-powered religious zealot that has been to the edge of the Underverse and back. Because of that journey, he is half alive and half …something else. (The plot plays it loose, despite the obvious inference from the name of the race.)

Riddick - a legendary character whose coming was foretold? Please. He's the kind of guy whose exploits are talked about with a mixture of craven admiration and sweaty fear in seedy bars, not inscribed in stone and cast in bronze. Underneath, Twohy knows it, too, even if Diesel doesn't.

So these Necromongers go about conquering the Universe before journeying to the Underverse, forcing every survivor of their attacks to convert to worshiping …something else with an admittedly nifty-looking neck-piercing mindwipe. Why do they do this, if the Lord Marshal has already been there? It all comes back to the Prophecy, which Dench, as the "elemental" Aeron, reduces to a mathematical calculation just in case we don't buy into the sense of wonder we're supposed to have. A race called the Furians will destroy the Lord Marshal, so he's trying to get them first. Guess who the last surviving Furian is?

If you said Nathan Lane, points for imagination.

Visually, the movie could be impressive, if Twohy's production design didn't tip its entire hand in the first ten minutes. Every image, every piece of set, repeats things from the beginning, just occasionally sliding in scale. Worse, The Necromonger sense of aesthetics is pretty much limited to a vaguely Giger-esque murk.

It affected Twohy's direction, too, because even every fight scene has the same forced iconic shot of Riddick leaping down from above on a hapless foe. Those foes, by the way, always deserve what they get, begging the question: just how "evil" can Riddick be if he only kills scumbags? Even Dench's narration says that by conscripting Riddick, the forces of relative good are using one evil to fight another. Yet he has a soft spot for a foster daughter (Alexa Davalos) picked up in Pitch Black, grudging respect for an Imam (Keith David) and a love of kittens, albeit huge armored man-eating ones.

The Chronicles of Riddick wants to be grand. Whatever powers that be completely lost sight of the fact that we didn't want grand, we wanted fun. And so it fails. Better luck with the videogame.


Derek McCaw

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