The Chronicles of Riddick
Grade: D+
Year: 2004
Director: David Twohy
Writer: David Twohy
Genre: Sci-Fi/Action
Rated: PG-13
By Scott Spicciati

“The Chronicles of Riddick” is a soulless two-hour exercise of mind numbing special effects with no direction. Without a brain in its muscle-bound body, “Riddick” takes us on a long and promising journey much like its original film “Pitch Black,” only at least that one was able to maintain our interest past the opening act.

The first film gained little notoriety in the theaters but eventually got a sizable audience upon its video and DVD release. This time around writer-director David Twohy gets a much bigger budget, but like so many rich sequels, this is another case when bigger doesn't mean better.

Set five years after the first movie, "Riddick" opens with escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel) on the run from bounty hunters known as Mercs (chuckle). It’s actually a pretty decent scene but that’s because at this point we haven’t been introduced to the mind-numbingly stupid plot, and the nifty special effects haven’t been played out to death yet.

Putting up with bounty hunters looking to collect a handsome reward for his capture isn’t Riddick’s only problem. You see, there’s this race of Necromongers, mindless servant warriors led by a fascist leader who goes by Lord Marshal (Colm Feore). Basically these people charter through the galaxy and destroy entire planets by forcing their people to Convert or die and then resurrect giant statues that tower over the rubble. How easy of a choice it is to make I could not tell you as the film has no desire to explain anything about its concepts. Convert to what? Apparently the ultimate goal is to reach some place called the “Underverse.” But hey, at least it’s not on some comet that requires the consumption of a fatal fruit-punch cocktail.

What we do know is that the Conversion process involves a painful procedure called "mind regression," which apparently turns you into a submissively mindless zombie-like slave to Lord Marshal. We know this because after Riddick refuses to either convert or die, for some unexplained reason Marshal gives Riddick a tour of his facilities. At this point I lost all interest in the film and tried my best to get it back but to no avail. It just gets worse and worse.

For example, exactly what does the Conversion do to you? A line from the film: "It hurts at first but it goes away as they said it would." Do they become zombies once stamped with that mark on their necks? Many Necromongers appear so but others seem to have all their free will. A certain female character didn't seem to be affected at all and even fought against the Necromongers after the procedure in the end.

Two characters named Vaako and Dame Vaako (Karl Urban and Thandie Newton) are also Converts but have so much free will that they devise a plan to overthrow Lord Marshal for a reason never mentioned. What makes some characters able withstand the treatment?

Another unexplained concept is Lord Marshal’s ability to steal souls. Is the soul a separate entity? The first sap who lost his soul seemed to be a confident character until Marshal sucked it right out of his chest, yet another character just as confident was able to fight it.

Marshal isn’t the only underdeveloped character. We soon meet Aereon, an elderly wizard-like woman who can float in midair and disappear for brief moments...but only brief moments because the film requires her to do so. Belonging to the Elemental race (chuckle), she explains to Riddick that he may be the only person who can stop the Necromongers because he belongs to the Furian warrior race (chuckle again), a group that has never feared the Necromongers. Uh-huh.

Aereon’s only real purpose in the film is to fulfill the required elderly wise-one role, and again much about her is never explained. If she can disappear or at least become transparent, how is she not able to escape from her handcuffs when placed in captivity for the reason I can only guess is because she opted to neither convert nor die.

Riddick is asked to help fight to Necromongers by the cleric Imam (Keith David), one of the few survivors from “Pitch Black,” but as with almost every action hero in most action movies, Riddick at first isn’t interested in saving the world because he would rather run from bounty hunters and utter Schwarzenegger-like one-liners, such as, “I bow to no one,” and “You only sent four guys after me? I’m insulted!” And then my favorite; he tells a pack of bounty hunters, “I hope no one’s afraid of the dark.” before extinguishing two candles with his palms.

He does care for one character, however -- Jack -- the preteen survivor from "Pitch Black" who is now caged in a subterranean prison beneath some uninteresting planet...probably because she opted to neither convert nor die.

Anyway, this Jack character -- who we thought was a boy in “Pitch Black” until the creatures sensed her first menstrual cycle -- has changed her name to Kyra (Alexa Davalos) and is now the most beautiful girl in the galaxy. Oh yeah, she can fight and stuff. Because Riddick has invested interest in Ja...I mean Kyra, he reluctantly agrees to save the galaxy but only on his own terms. You see, Riddick is a badass criminal who don’t follow no authority. Word.

To be fair, the special effects are spectacular, but to expect any less from a mega-budget film would be cheating. I enjoyed the macabre-like structures and the overall ominous tone of the film, but my appreciation ends abruptly there. Most of the action takes place in fast-paced blurs which leaves us caring for the people involved as much as we did for the freedom fighters in “Battlefield Earth.” Then again, how likable is Riddick supposed to be considering he’s a convicted criminal and has “killed a lot of people” to get those cool glow-in-the-dark-but-only-sometimes eyes?

I want to know where George Lucas was when David Twohy needed a name for his fictitious planet and came up with Crematoria. If you can guess that a Merc is like a mercenary, and an Elemental is a fading element and a Furian is someone who’s furious, then you can probably guess the atmosphere of Crematoria. Surprise -- it’s hot. Can’t say the same for the film, though. Can’t say the same for the film.

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