With unabashed B-movie Pitch Black’s sleeper success, Vin Diesel’s archetypal anti-hero Riddick proved an unlikely springboard to stardom for the charismatic actor. The character – and Diesel’s career – nearly didn’t survive the expansion into spin-off indulgence with the misjudged Chronicles Of Riddick, although surprisingly well-executed X-Box off-shoots kept them both in the target audience’s consciousness. With his return to the Fast & Furious series putting him back in box-office pole position, Diesel has engineered a return to his sci-fi roots, producing writer/director David Twohy's latest in an attempt to reboot the franchise. With adult sci-fi thin on the ground these days, Riddick's splattery violence and incessant swearing are moderately endearing, but there's also a distinct whiff of fromage and disconcerting air of misogyny to contend with here.

Having bought into his own hype and been dumped on a barren planet by his would-be assassins, Riddick's efforts to get home have only left him fighting for his life, with a broken life and a host of alien wildlife out for blood. After rebuilding his body and mind, his trek towards more habitable plains is interrupted by a pair of rival bounty hunter teams, one as bad and ballsy as their target and another that realises the danger their prey represents. As the two teams of mercenaries squabble and get picked off by Riddick, a greater threat closes in, which throws them all together in a fight for survival.

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The first half hour plays like a veiled Diesel autobiography, with ego and backlash playing into a classical rise-and-fall narrative. The space opera quality that sank the bloated Chronicles Of Riddick is quickly abandoned however in favour of a return to B-movie mechanics, with brazen nods and winks to Diesel's other works - from a Fast And Furious-style bike chase to a flirty/sleazy relationship with Katee Battlestar Galactica Sackhoff's token lesbian who recalls XXX's spunky Asia Argento heroine. Diesel's much-speculated sexuality is also further toyed with through the conflicting veins of chauvinism and homoeroticism, adding a knowingly trashy streak to the relationships.

For a good portion of the first half, it's a Wall-E-style one-man show for Diesel, fending off all sorts of carnivorous beasties as he tries to get back on his feet and reconnect with his masculine side, a task which involves strutting around starkers in the moonlight. It's all fairly ridiculous but the art design and world-building is pretty impressive, with the creatures especially imaginatively designed but still feeling like actual animals as opposed to merely outlandish monsters. There's even a scene-stealing space jackal sidekick, a cutesy pleasure where viewers might have expected a Diesel flick to be more po-faced.

Bizarrely, he more or less becomes a ghost when the surplus of disposable cannon fodder characters enter the fray, sending the machismo through the roof and any unwitting feminists for the exits, no doubt. Some of the banter is agreeably salty, nicely complimenting Diesel’s gravelly, expletive-laden voiceover, but there’s an unnecessarily mean-spirited vein of misogyny in the alpha males’ attitudes, and the homophobic slurs slung at Sackhoff feel desperate and even irresponsible. The racist undertones will also put some viewers off: it's not far removed from the sort of tactics occasionally deployed by auteurs like Romero and Carpenter, but it all adds up to leave a sour taste, especially considering the target audience of horny Xbox-raised teenagers.

The acting is also all over the shop, with some brilliant scenery-chomping from the likes of Jordi Molla and sturdy support from ex-WWE star Dave Bautista rubbing up awkwardly against the bland Matthew Nable and his interchangeable grunts. Sackhoff kicks ass and flashes breasts on Twohy's dubious command, but is never given enough to do, and her parting shot - with Diesel's hands clenching her cheeks - is a gratuitous step too far. Diesel's as cool as usual, but should really know better by now - it's looking increasingly doubtful that he'll ever get back to his indie roots.

Despite its inconsistent tone and predictably overlong duration, Riddick is a surprisingly enjoyable waste of time overall, with some memorable set-pieces riffing on previous genre classics and a few sequences that manage to get the blood pumping. It's gorgeous looking, with excellent CGI meshing well with the practical locations and effects, and for once surround sound is put through its paces in the alien attack scenes. It could have done with being more focused - Twohy attempts to replicate the gloriously simplistic set-up of Pitch Black but throws too much into the mix too late - but it's a solid step forward for its eponymous hero, as long as he drops the woman-hating attitude next time.

Reviewed on: 12 Sep 2013
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Marooned on a planet full of monsters, Riddick must face off against mercenaries and issues from his past.
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Director: David Twohy

Writer: David Twohy

Starring: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff, Matt Nable

Year: 2013

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, UK


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