Skip to main content

Don't know how many times I've been crossed off the list and left for dead. So this... this ain't nothing new.


Riddick
(2013)

Vin’s back in his most-loved role (by him, at least). To get into training, the action star gargled a mouthful of gravel for a full 40 minutes every morning, rather than his usual 20. The extra effort has served him well, as his monotone drawl manages (mostly) to pass off the most uninspired dialogue. With that in mind, it should be little surprise that the best parts of this trilogy-maker are the sequences where Richard B. Riddick has no one to talk to.


Riddick is something of a disappointment; needs must, or at least budgets must, that the overblown space opera of Chronicles has been pared down to the bone. But why did director David Twohy and his star think it was a good idea to put all that solid groundwork in for what becomes to a tepid reheat of the first movie? Probably because the fans repeated that Pitch Black was the one they really loved.


Vin is nothing if not interactive with his groupies, ever posting piccies from projects and updating his Facebook like the kind of madman who is wants to satisfy 47 million thumbs-ups. The rights to his night-visioned anti-hero were bundled to him in return for a cameo in Tokyo Drift (Universal was that attached to the franchise following the underperformance of Chronicles). He’ll explain how he mortgaged his house (only one of them?) to secure the financing for his labour of love. All did not go according to plan, despite the long gestation period. The funding hiccupped, and the planned location shoot in Egypt fell through; the result was a planet surface entirely created in the studio. One could complain that the lack of locale is very evident, but it goes to underline that this is an unashamed B-movie. The problem is, there are great B-movies and then there are the rest.


The crashing of Chronicles also resulted in an ever-so slight hiccup in the extended space opera Twohy and Diesel envisaged for their character. All that Necromonging and bestowance of supreme leadership had to be curtailed (wherever it was they planned to send Richie, you can bet it was vast). So, in a rather half-arsed flashback (graced by a cameo return from Karl Urban), we discover that he was betrayed by his adopted people, ending up presumed dead on an unnamed planet, which is where we meet him.


I was fully on-board with the B-trappings, and Twohy makes an effort to accentuate the alien inhospitability of this world (just about the first thing we learn is not to drink the water, or at least be very careful about the water you drink). The CGI creatures are very evidently just that, but no better or worse than those in your average blockbuster. In particular, Riddick’s adopted jackal is rendered with sufficient personality that we are invested in the one-man-and-dog Mad Max 2-esque relationship. But, if the dog is a positive slice of invention, the death’s head-tailed predators never attain a status other than as an overly referential nod to those of Pitch Black. Instead of creatures that come out at night, there are creatures that come out in the rain.


So, while the one man against the wilderness first act is engaging, Twohy fumbles both the conceptualisation and delivery of the other two. Instead of effectively building momentum once Riddick realises he has to get out that place, the director-writer evaporates it by engaging with the activities of the unengaging mercenaries who arrive to take him captive. There's absolutely no good reason a lean mean 100-minute movie should last two hours. The consequence is vague boredom setting in during the middle section (one of my fellow cinema goers fell asleep, which might be a slightly excessive critical response).


All the squabbling mercs seem capable of is exchanging banal expletives; it’s especially disappointing that a writer-turned-director should show such a tin ear for dialogue. And its particularly galling, as the overinflated running time seems designed to spotlight these characters; as if they should be a source of pride rather than a selection of tiresome clichés (the lesbian character announces she’s a lesbian within seconds, the young pup is religious so unconvincingly starts praying as soon as the attack begins). Instead of concentrating on what this motley crew were up to, I became distracted at how one character, who has a particular beef against Riddick, could be the father of a someone he encountered in an earlier movie, despite only three years separating the actors involved. It makes the eight years between Cary Grant and mum Jessie Royce Landis in North by Northwest look like perfectly reasonable casting.


The lacklustre elements aside, there are pleasures to be had along the way. There’s no doubt that Riddick continues to have potential as good bad guy, but I can’t help thinking he would be served better if Twohy came up with some characters with equal weight, who are other than stock types. I like the motif of cocky Riddick predicting just how he's going to best his adversaries, even if some of the actual scenarios lack real cunning (the locked cabinet) and others are just woeful (going balls-deep in Starbuck, or rather Katee Sackhoff). There are less illustrious activities than coming up with classic ways for Riddick to off bad guys (unfortunately the tea cup scene in Chronicles is not trumped here, however). Katee’s main purpose in the movie appears to have been to flash a nipple so Riddick can do his Peeping Tom act. Except… well, I come to that.


While the third act is entertaining enough, we’ve already seen him pulling off exactly the same thing in the first movie. The way to make a B-movie like this shine is to make a virtue of the supporting players and give them memorable rather than just ripe dialogue; Cameron’s Aliens ought to be the template for this sort of picture (that’s how you make a B-movie). Unfortunately, only David Bautista (who makes Vin look like a wee fellow) makes an impression.


By default, the most entertaining aspect has already received a fair amount of scrutiny from the bemused online community; the (intentional?) subtext of homosexual angst exhibited by Richard B. Straight off the bat, our non-plussed protagonist makes himself unpopular with the Necromongers when he demurs from taking advantage of a harem of its shaven ladies. He comments, something to the effect that he wasn’t into it. Fair enough, you think; horses for courses. But later, when he encounters devout lesbian Starbuck, he's all over her with his deep balls.  Presumably because there's no danger she'll be turned? Is our man Vin trying to let us know something here? He’s certainly not leaving much room for doubt.


Twohy, like any connoisseur of rip-offs, indulges a number of movie references; I mentioned Mad Max 2, but there’s also Apocalypse Now (Riddick rising from the undrinkable water) and Die Hard 3 (a family member out for revenge). He doesn’t do anything really interesting with them, though.  I loved his last film, A Perfect Getaway, which was gleefully batshit crazy and bserkly watchable even if you guessed the twist. And I had a good time with the first two Riddicks. But this one, with a title that suggests a self-titled album by an uninspired band struggling for back-to-basics glory, fails through beating a safe retreat. If you get another chance, David, throw Riddick into a scenario as different as Chronicles was from Pitch Black. I’m still rooting for the goggle-bound hulk.

**1/2

Popular posts from this blog

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists!

Don’t Look Up (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s testament to Don’t Look Up ’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

You ruined every suck-my-silky-ass thing!

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) (SPOILERS) Warner Bros has been here before. Déjà vu? What happens when you let a filmmaker do whatever they want? And I don’t mean in the manner of Netflix. No, in the sequel sense. You get a Gremlins 2: The New Batch (a classic, obviously, but not one that financially furthered a franchise). And conversely, when you simply cash in on a brand, consequences be damned? Exorcist II: The Heretic speaks for itself. So in the case of The Matrix Resurrections – not far from as meta as The New Batch , but much less irreverent – when Thomas “Tom” Anderson, designer of globally successful gaming trilogy The Matrix , is told “ Our beloved company, Warner Bros, has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy ” and it’s going ahead “with or without us”, you can be fairly sure this is the gospel. That Lana, now going it alone, decided it was better to “make the best of it” than let her baby be sullied. Of course, quite what that amounts to in the case of a movie(s) tha

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018) (SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless  Heat  rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but  Den of Thieves  is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

It’s always possible to find a good moral reason for killing anybody.

The Assassination Bureau (1969) (SPOILERS) The Assassination Bureau ought to be a great movie. You can see its influence on those who either think it is a great movie, or want to produce something that fulfils its potential. Alan Moore and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen . The just-released (and just-flopped) The King’s Men . It inhabits a post-Avengers, self-consciously benign rehearsal of, and ambivalence towards, Empire manners and attitudes, something that could previously be seen that decade in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (and sequel Monte Carlo or Bust , also 1969), Adam Adamant Lives! , and even earlier with Kind Hearts and Coronets , whilst also feeding into that “Peacock Revolution” of Edwardian/Victorian fashion refurbishment. Unfortunately, though, it lacks the pop-stylistic savvy that made, say, The President’s Analyst so vivacious.

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

This guy’s armed with a hairdryer.

An Innocent Man (1989) (SPOILERS) Was it a chicken-and-egg thing with Tom Selleck and movies? Did he consistently end up in ropey pictures because other, bigger big-screen stars had first dibs on the good stuff? Or was it because he was a resolutely small-screen guy with limited range and zero good taste? Selleck had about half-a-dozen cinema outings during the 1980s, one of which, the very TV, very Touchstone Three Men and a Baby was a hit, but couldn’t be put wholly down to him. The final one was An Innocent Man , where he attempted to show some grit and mettle, as nice-guy Tom is framed and has to get tough to survive. Unfortunately, it’s another big-screen TV movie.