Saturday, May 14, 2005

Give a bald man a bad-ass voice, and he'll give you a mess of a movie: "The Chronicles of Riddick"

You know, there's something to be said for truth in advertising. For instance, if "The Chronicles of Riddick" had been named, say, "Big Steaming Pile of Poop," it not only would have been accurate, but it would have cleared $200 million. "Ten dollars a ticket? I'll take two!"

Like a lot of people, I found the movie "Pitch Black" pretty entertaining. Washed out colors, space vampires, simple but effective plot and, of course, a relatively unknown brute of an actor named Vin Diesel. To that point, the former NYC bouncer had been a bit player in "Saving Private Ryan," the voice of "Iron Giant" and an amusing supporting guy in "Boiler Room."

"Pitch Black," with Diesel playing a dangerous convict helping a stranded group of people escape a planet teeming with batlike monsters, obviously put him on the map, leading to "The Fast and the Furious" and "XXX," neither great but a decent fit for Diesel's limited range. Unfortunately, Diesel is still making movies, and if "The Pacifier" is any indication, his cartoonish acting is ticketed for straight-to-cable movies -- and not HBO, friends -- within three years. Too bad, because he apparently had more promising career opportunities.

But what of "Riddick?" In theory, this movie picks up five years after Diesel's character, Riddick, had escaped the planet with a couple of other folks. Through a rather convoluted process, he's recruited to stop an army of pasty refugees from "Dune" who have a nasty habit of destroying planets. Really, I swear some of the costumes and much of the stone-faced expressions were lifted directly from the 1984 film that proved that as an actor, Sting is a pretty good singer.

"Riddick" isn't as confusing as "Dune" but gives it the old college try. Full disclosure: I started watching this earlier in the week, coming across it in my hotel room after several drinks with clients. (Those bobblehead doll makers sure know how to party.) After maybe 15 minutes, I thought, "Wait, what's going on here?" After 30 minutes, I thought, "Do I really care?" After 45 minutes, I passed out. I should have left things at that, but "Riddick" was on again last night, and I gave it another shot. Will I never learn?

Anyway, there's not much to say other than, yeah, there are all sorts of fights and explosions, but there also is a bunch of exposition that doesn't explain the story very well, especially when it bounces from planet to planet and plot line to plot line. Maybe two supporting roles are decent: Nick Chinlund, a standard "that guy," as a mercenary, and Alexa Davalos, a friend of Riddick's from "Pitch Black" who really can't act but is easy on the eyes.

But two other actors bear special mention: Diesel and Dame Judi Dench. Diesel, as I said, has pretty much become a cartoon. Here's a fun idea: Count the number of times Riddick tears off his black goggles in this movie. Lines such as "It's been a long time since I smelled beautiful" don't help, especially when they and several others seem like voice-overs. Maybe his voice really is that deep.

As for Dench, I think everyone forgives her work in the James Bond movies since that's a somewhat respected franchise that draws big international box office. But what the hell was she thinking here? According to IMDB, Diesel really wanted Dench to be in this movie. Well, so what? I mean, women can say no to a weak-ass proposition. Not that I know anything about that.


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