STARRING: Vin Diesel, Thandie Newton, Karl Urban, Judi Dench, Colm Feore

2004, 119 Minutes, Directed by David Twohy

What in the name has happened to the science fiction genre as of late?

It seems like those overrated Matrix films have taken the genre by storm and made everyone else scamper off to copy them to the best of their abilities without it being too obvious as to invoke claims of plagiarism. This is what I like to call “The Matrix Effect”, not to be confused with The Butterfly Effect. This ever-sweeping syndrome has even spread to purveyors of solid genre entertainment such as David Twohy, the writer and director of this pseudo sci-fi epic and much better films in the past such as Below and The Arrival.

What he has concocted with The Chronicles of Riddick is an increasingly messy and incomprehensible film that although it may attempt to be elegantly complicated and intricate, is really just a bunch of mumbo jumbo devised by Twohy, who it has been told, never really had any concrete plans for a spin-off from Pitch Black but was coerced into doing this film after being approached by Universal executives who saw potential in having a second Vin Diesel led franchise after The Fast and the Furious.

The film’s plot has something to do with Riddick, an ex-con who is on the run from interstellar planet to interstellar planet until he finds himself getting caught up in a war against an oppressive race called the Necromongers. What follows is much fighting and far too much laborious talking; making this film almost a clone of the dreadful Matrix Reloaded fiasco.

"The actors might as well be speaking gibberish for all the sense some of the material makes . . ."

The film fails to work for multiple reasons. Chief among them is the fact that the film’s lead, Diesel, gives a one-note performance that may be somewhat fitting of his dark and dreary character, but nonetheless grows tiresome rather quickly as he spouts off line after line of corny dialogue in a vain attempt to sound profound yet be the perfect example of an anti-hero that he can be. Diesel works better in supporting roles like the one he had in the original Fast and Furious where he was the yin to Paul Walker’s yang. He even showed some yet untapped potential in the underrated Wall Street drama Boiler Room, once again in a supporting role. I’m sorry, but this guy is just not good enough or self-effacing enough to be the next action hero and take over the throne once held by the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger, who never was a very good actor but was appropriately self-mocking and had an imminently watchable screen presence to burn in starring in some of the best science fiction films of all time with The Terminator franchise and Total Recall, among others. The Rock gets my vote as the next big action hero. Here’s to hoping he claims what is his for the taking.

The film isn’t helped by a supporting cast that may not give as vapid performances as Diesel, but seem even more dumbfounded by a script chock full of lines it is likely no one other than Twohy could understand in their right mind. They might as well be speaking gibberish for all the sense some of the material makes. This is perhaps the most dense science fiction psychobabble this side of L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth saga, which I myself have read and seen the awful resulting film with John Travolta.

Not all is lost with the film though, as the 100 million plus budget is obviously on display with some stunning production design and special effects that are fun to look at and would be even more so if we cared what happened to any of the characters.

The Chronicles of Riddick is a science fiction film that has the distinction of attempting to be a combination of two somewhat beloved film/novels: Battlefield Earth and The Matrix. In combining both, Twohy has somehow made a film that will instead be liked by no one once word-of-mouth spreads after a large opening weekend.

- Joe Rickey

Big and dumb – like its star! Not particularly original, and it OD’s on CGI effects. Still, it’s not quite as bad as some critics have made it out to be and will make for a passable brainless video rental on a Friday evening after a tiring week. James O'Ehley


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