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Vin Diesel stars in "The Chronicles of Riddick."
By Film critic
updated 6/10/2004 2:39:03 PM ET 2004-06-10T18:39:03

There are three “Chronicles of Riddick” on the market this month, although only one is playing theaters. And it may be the worst of the lot.

“The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black (Unrated Director’s Cut),” starring Vin Diesel as the semi-psychotic anti-hero Riddick, is the DVD version of a low-budget 2000 science-fiction movie directed by David Twohy. Also available on DVD is “The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury,” an animated 2004 spin-off of the movie, featuring Vin Diesel’s voice.

Making its debut on the big screen is “The Chronicles of Riddick,” a costly sequel to “Pitch Black” in which Vin Diesel’s Riddick shares billing with a slumming Oscar winner, Judi Dench, who appears briefly as an ambiguous phantom called Aeron. Twohy, who made the clever 1996 extraterrestrial thriller, “The Arrival,” is again the director, and he gets full credit for the script. (Last time around, he had two co-writers; maybe he should have kept them on the payroll.)

What will it be called when it reaches video stores? After all, it needs a subtitle to separate it from the other “Chronicles” out there. The experience of watching the movie, which lasts two hours but feels like 10 or 12, allows for plenty of opportunities to consider the possibilities: “More Is Less,” perhaps, or “Computer-Generated Tedium,” or “A New Hopelessness,” or “In Space, No One Can Hear You Yawn.”

Like last year’s interminable “Matrix” sequels, the new “Riddick” has the pompous, puffed-up quality of a 1950s Biblical epic in which spectacle is all and no one seems willing or able to pick up the pace. When he isn’t tossing off groaner one-liners, or when he doesn’t look like he’s swaggered into the wrong leather bar, Vin Diesel seems to be channeling Yul Brynner’s disgruntled pharaoh in “The Ten Commandments.”

In the original “Pitch Black,” Riddick was a crazed ex-con whose threatening manner lent some tension to a story about a crash landing on a dark and remote planet. In the sequel, he stages a showdown with a pushy religious fanatic (Colm Feore) who wants to populate the universe with Necromongers, robot-like warriors who are programmed to convert or kill the heathen.

Considering the current political climate, Ann Coulter might have been inspired casting as Chief Necromonger, but it’s doubtful the filmmakers would have known what to do with her. The women, even the expressively ethereal Dench, aren’t given enough screen time. Thandie Newton has only a few fun moments as Feore’s campy deputy, who uses an eye-liner that literally scorches. Alexa Davalos does try to make something of her nothing role as a distressed friend Riddick is determined to rescue from a subterranean prison.

While the first film was no masterpiece, and it hardly demanded a sequel, what the fans liked about it was its B-movie lack of pretension and its ingenious use of a shoestring budget. The new “Riddick” is an out-of-control, overproduced betrayal of all that made “Pitch Black” distinctive. The summer is young, but it may not yield a more snooze-worthy bore.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Video: Vin Diesel


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