Monday, September 9, 2013

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Back in 2000, a bouncer-turned-actor starred in a Little Movie That Could called Pitch Black.  Introducing a character known as Riddick and playing with classic themes such as our fear of the dark and fear of the unknown, Pitch Black succeeded well enough at the box office to spawn a sequel a few years later called The Chronicles of Riddick.  The larger budget (and Judi Dench!) didn't translate into a bigger and better story and the franchise seemed to be relegated to cult status.  Then came the Fast & Furious franchise and Vin Diesel had enough clout to start the ball rolling for a third Riddick film.  (It took some doing, too.  Diesel reportedly considered mortgaging his own house to raise the cash.)

Was Riddick worth it?

Probably.  It's a grim, anti-heroic tale and we seem to like our heroes conflicted and deep, deep into the gray areas of life these days.  There are some cliches that I wish had been avoided, but overall, it's a good science fiction thriller set on an incredibly inhospitable world that would never, ever reward softness or hesitation.  Riddick is set up as a basically good guy who does bad things only in order to survive.  (Hey, he even has a puppy!) There are solid performances throughout, especially by Diesel and Katee Sackhoff (late of Battlestar Galactica fame).  But here is also one of the big flaws.

The language throughout the movie is coarse and repetitive - to the point where I was marveling at the strain the script put on the "f-word" to serve as noun, verb, adjective, adverb and (just maybe) gerund.  Sackhoff's character is the only female and she is clearly established as tough-as-nails, capable, and not interested in men, despite her given name of "Dahl."  At one point, Diesel makes it clear that he's going to have sex with her, but only because she's asked him to, "sweet-like."  My radar went up immediately - surely they weren't going to go down the "all a lesbian needs is the right man" path, right?  To be fair, the later scene is just ambiguous enough that you could read it as "no sex, they just were bantering" but I don't think so.  I just hate that sort of thing - why is Dahl's sexuality an issue in the first place?  It's not a topic that comes up with any of the men-folk.  And Sackhoff is the only named character we see naked (or showering, for that matter.  Hygiene is apparently only an issue for female bounty hunters).  It's lazy and Riddick doesn't benefit from it.

In short, Riddick is not a bad film.  It's not great, but it's better than average.  The "R" rating is well deserved - lots of graphic violence and language that could blister the paint off a wall.  If you enjoy seeing rough justice and the ultimate survivor taking on an entire world bent on killing him, Riddick is for you.  Just don't take the kids.

By the way - I'm becoming a bit of a Diesel fan.  He comes across as a thoughtful actor in his approach to his craft - not what I was expecting, and shame on me.  Check out Find Me Guilty for an idea of the depth he can bring to a character.  But I still have major problems with the Dahl/Riddick dynamic here.

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