“Riddick,” aka “The Sequel Nobody Wanted,” gets off to a surprisingly strong start. The eponymous anti-hero (Vin Diesel), an intergalactic outlaw with the ability to see in the dark, is stranded on a desert planet with no weapons or supplies, seriously wounded and relentlessly hunted by carnivorous aliens. There are scary doglike predators that look like a cross between dingoes, hyenas and zebras. There are fearsome scorpionlike monsters that lure their prey with canny intelligence. There are other creatures circling high overhead, but Riddick can’t fly, so those aren’t as much of a problem.
Relying primarily on visuals, with a spackling of voiceover narration to help ease viewers into the movie, writer-director David Twohy creates an involving survival drama that constantly raises the stakes on Riddick, then finds a plausible way to extricate him from each cliffhanger. But there are early signs of trouble, too.
A flashback explaining how Riddick wound up on this inhospitable rock does away with the entirety of “The Chronicles of Riddick” in two minutes (and makes suckers out of anyone who paid to see that film). When Riddick traps a dingo-thing pup and tames it, the animal, which has the wide eyes of a Walt Disney character, becomes such a precocious and playful creature that I kept waiting for Riddick to name it Marley. (Riddick also manages to somehow teach the beast English, since he can say, “Bring me my reserves,” and the adorable hyena-thing understands exactly what he means.)
Then the plot kicks in, and “Riddick” starts to fall apart. Two packs of bounty hunters come looking for Riddick, who is wanted across the galaxy, preferably dead. They are all B-movie stock types. There is the calm, authoritative one (Matt Nable), who doesn’t want to kill Riddick, only to speak to him about something. There is the Hispanic hothead (Jordi Molla), who is prone to hissy fits and speaks in such a thick Spanish accent that you can barely make out what he’s saying. There is the attractive, butch lesbian (“Battlestar Galactica’s” Katee Sackhoff), who is just as tough as any of the guys. There is the black one (Bokeem Woodvine), who serves no discernible purpose other than to prove African-Americans exist in the future, too. There is the religious one (Nolan Gerard Funk), who is constantly breaking out into prayer when he should be wielding a gun instead.
Diesel disappears from the movie for a dangerously long stretch while his would-be hunters bicker and argue and trade insults among themselves, adding nothing to the film’s ridiculously bloated running time (two hours) except irritation. Unlike true science fiction, “Riddick” doesn’t have a single intriguing idea or concept. The movie, which sports loads of cheesy-looking CGI effects, simply co-opts the genre for tiresome formulas that aren’t all that different from the “Friday the 13th” pictures.
Eventually, Diesel re-enters the fray, and “Riddick” becomes a shameless rip-off of “Aliens,” as well as a preposterous cartoon that makes “The Amazing Spider-Man” seem like a documentary. Twohy pulls off an effective setpiece now and then (there’s a terrific scene involving the opening of a lock that may or may not be booby-trapped), but the entire movie bears the whiff of a vanity project — a modestly budgeted bone Universal Pictures threw at Diesel so he would keep starring in “Fast and Furious” pictures. Those movies are bank; “Riddick” is rank.
One star (Out of four)
Starring Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff and Jordi Molla. Directed by David Twohy. 119 minutes. Rated R for vulgar language, violence, sexual situations, nudity, adult themes. Opening today.