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The Chronicles of Riddick (June 10/04)

If nothing else, you have to admire writer/director David Twohy's ambition. Though The Chronicles of Riddick's predecessor, Pitch Black, in no way established the sort of complicated fantasy world that this film revels in, Twohy nonetheless has created a universe that's utterly original and different. But the filmmaker seems to have been so consumed with envisioning a unique alternate reality that he's forgotten important details such as a storyline or expository dialogue.

While some of the more confusing elements are cleared up as the movie progresses, there are certain things that are never made clear. This is primarily true in the case of the Necromongers, a new-to-the-series race of warmongers bent on global (and universal) domination. There's no denying that they're an intriguing group - Twohy does a lot of set-up with these guys, including several references to their "faith" and a description of the painful process one must go through to become a Necromonger - but we're never given an explanation just what they are, exactly. At a certain point, to avoid frustration, audience members are left with little choice but to classify the Necromongers as "the bad guys"; Twohy's refusal to explain their origins or even what they are is bizarre, to say the least.

It's a shame, too, given that the character of Riddick is fairly intriguing. Played by Vin Diesel, Riddick is a fierce criminal with only his well being in mind; though, as we learned in Pitch Black, he does have a hidden heart-of-gold and will occasionally offer assistance to those that need it. As the film opens, Riddick's back on the run - it's five years after the events of the original - as a bounty's been placed on his head. The forces that oppose the Necromongers want Riddick to take up the cause, but he's not interested in joining a fight that isn't his. There wouldn't be much of a movie if he weren't cajoled into agreeing, which is what inevitably happens.

It's a fairly straight-forward premise that would have worked if Twohy had included some backstory on the Necromongers, or any of the assorted characters populating the screen. Aside from Riddick, we're not given anyone to either root for or against - though Colm Feore does show some promise as the film's central villain, Lord Marshal (the leader of the Necromongers). Twohy's impatience in moving the story forward results in a disjointed narrative that's virtually impossible to get into. Just when it seems as though the movie's going to be about one thing, Twohy changes gears and goes in an entirely different direction (ie a lengthy - and somewhat pointless - sequence at a prison midway through the film).

As for the various characters inhabiting this world, Twohy effectively establishes several figures - including a MacBethian power couple, played by Karl Urban and Thandie Newton - but neglects to develop them as the film progresses, dulling the impact of their respective payoffs. As for Riddick, he's a fine anti-hero; given the right movie, he has the potential to be the next Snake Plissken (as creative as Twohy clearly is, he's no John Carpenter). Thanks to the inexplicable PG-13 rating, though, the movie never allows Riddick to full-out do his thing. Twohy films the action sequences with fast-cuts and strobe-lighting effects, making them virtually incoherent. This is particularly frustrating when you consider the fact that Pitch Black was justifiably rated R (one can only assume the switch was made to ensure more kids are able to get into the movie). Diesel has gone on record saying that the DVD will contain a lot of cut footage, but is anybody going to want to revisit the flick in six months time? Doubtful.

The bottom line is that The Chronicles of Riddick is undeniably a wonder to look at, but it's all style of substance. There's no flow to the movie; Twohy lurches from one set-piece to the next, which is particularly problematic given that none of the set-pieces are terribly compelling. The open-ended conclusion is intriguing, but the film is destined to join the ranks of Son of Blob if further installments aren't forthcoming.

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