One of the dangers in reviewing is the urge to measure everything with the same yardstick. It seems like a good idea: "I have standards! There are rules!" But I'm here to tell you, if you use the same set of demands for Oscar-bait costume dramas as you do with big, dumb summer flicks whose only job is to help you get to the bottom of the popcorn bucket, you're not only going to wind up having a crummy time, you're going to become that person everybody hates to go to the movies with — that ass who pronounces everything without subtitles to be the next stumble in the fall of Western civilization. Here's the secret: Some films are a scalpel. Others are a wiffleball bat. They both get their respective jobs done.
Straight out of Wiffleballville is the new action flick "Riddick," the third in the trilogy of films that feature Vin Diesel as intergalactic man of mystery Richard B. Riddick, king of the gravelly one-liners, a guy so incorrigibly bad ass that the bounty on his head doubles if he's brought back dead.
This installment, a sequel to 2000's cult fave "Pitch Black," and 2004's "The Chronicles of Riddick," is — to some extent — an if-it-ain't-broke retread of the earlier films. The opening scene finds Riddick buried under a rockslide on a barren, desert world, his seeming corpse circled by that planet's lizardy, bat-winged version of buzzards. Through flashbacks, we soon learn that Riddick has been stranded there, left for dead by the pseudo-religious cult he came to lead in "The Chronicles of Riddick." Or something — not that it matters.
True to form, with glowing eyes set to hi-beam, Riddick soon kills and eats said sorta-buzzards before splinting his own broken leg, building himself an obsidian sword, befriending a dingo/hyena/leopard/Great Dane puppy-thing that (weirdly) seems to grow to adulthood overnight, and duking it out with the scorpion/slug/snake/CGI monsters that guard the only source of fresh water (which requires, of course, slowly inoculating himself with their venom to build up a tolerance). Having mastered the landscape like a boss and tired of waiting around for asses to kick, he and his loyal werewolf/puppy/tiger thing strike out across the desert. Coming upon a remote mercenary station, he activates the distress beacon, which sends out his photo and Social Security Number to every bounty-hunter in the galaxy. In less time than you can say "Boba Fett," a passel of them have landed with only one goal: to kill Riddick deader than Rick James. Did I mention the bounty doubles if he's dead?
Made on a budget of only $38 million (which wouldn't even touch the wardrobe and catering line on most Hollywood blockbusters), Riddick ain't gonna be up for Best Picture this winter. The characters are, for the most part, wooden and disposable — either oily villains with targets on their backs, or conflicted everymen who will either survive or live just long enough to give Riddick a bro-hug and say they're sorry before they croak.
That said, for a certain film fan, "Riddick" is Vin Diesel and trilogy director David Twohy doing what they do best, which is big, dumb action. Sure, the script is cut-and-paste ("Will the bounty hunters eventually team up with Riddick in a moment of desperation? Press 1 for 'yes,' 2 for 'hell yes' ... ") but that is, oddly enough, what a lot of people want: the cinematic equivalent of the McDonald's Quarter Pounder. And no matter what the dude with all the books on Truffaut tells you, there's nothing wrong with that.
In the plus column, most of the CGI work in the film looks great. That a film with a budget this light didn't turn out with "Riddick vs. Sharknado" special effects is a testament to how much the cost of doing good CGI has come down to earth in recent years. Bonus: This installment, at the request of fans, is R-rated, which means blood, boobies and the f-word, which lends a certain panache to the proceedings. Diesel isn't Sir Lawrence Olivier, but he does yeoman-like work here in the character he created, even touching a few times on something I wish the script had made more of: That even superheroes (or should that be "superantiheroes"?) eventually get old and slow.
If you're a film buff looking for deep and meaningful character development, you should probably just go ahead and cryogenically freeze yourself between May and October. If, however, you're just looking for a film to get to the bottom of a $9 bladder buster soda, "Riddick" might be the flick for you. It's dumb, even for a summer movie. But when it's 101 outside, sometimes dumb is what you need.