The Last Sci-fi Blog: Why 'Riddick' Is the Weirdest, Trashiest Movie of the Year

The Last Sci-fi Blog: Why 'Riddick' Is the Weirdest, Trashiest Movie of the Year

Sep 12, 2013

To really understand just how weird Riddick is, you've got to look at it through the lens of another genre.

Imagine a Friday the 13th film that opened with Jason Voorhees struggling to survive in the woods after being left for dead following the events of his previous killing spree. Imagine that we get to know Jason a bit and watch him befriend an adorable stray dog. Imagine him barely keeping himself alive and triumphantly defeating a bear and/or mountain lion in a sequence of slow-motion badassery. And then, 30 minutes into the movie, the teenagers arrive for the slaughter, perspective shifts, and our masked, vicious killer starts picking them off one by one. And that's before the army of monsters arrive and force Jason to team up with the kids in order to make it out alive.

If that sounds in any way appealing to you, then you really need to make Riddick a priority. This isn't just the sequel to Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick -- this is the strangest, gnarliest and trashiest science fiction movie of the year, an experience that feels like it crawled out of 1972, received a glossy coat of paint and arrived in theaters with a snarl on its face and a whole bunch of nastiness on its mind. Riddick feels less like its predecessors and more like a schlockfest that would have been at home playing in Times Square during the age of the grindhouse. The only thing missing is a crew made up entirely of Italians using fake American names.

Riddick's general craziness begins in its first act (more of an extended prologue, really), which sees on-the-run convict and murderer Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) stranded on a hostile alien planet. After a brief flashback that practically scrubs The Chronicles of Riddick out of history, the film sets out to quickly remind you that there is nothing cuddly or loveable about the title character. Determined to get back to his savage ways, Riddick fights for his survival with all the grace and charisma of a particularly ugly rock, mumbling and sneering at every alien he kills. It's astonishing how unlikable Riddick really is, which, weirdly, ends up making him kind of likeable. He's such a bastard that he crosses some kind of threshold and emerges as being kind of cool. Most sci-fi antiheroes are given some kind of code or soft spot to make them relatable or give them a chance to have a change of heart later in the film. But not Riddick. He's a jerk. More specifically, he's a jerk who can become a typical horror-movie slasher at the drop of a hat, so there's just something plain wrong with him. He's awful, which ends up making him kind of amazing.

What's even more astonishing than Riddick's SOB-ness is that no one else in the film is particularly likeable either. After surviving on the alien planet for quite some time (long enough for his cute alien dog sidekick to become fully grown), Riddick activates a distress signal on an abandoned mercenary outpost, hangs back as all of the bounty hunters arrive and beings to promptly and professionally pick them off, one by one. Like all Hollywood slasher victims, none of these guys have more than two dimensions and they're all despicable enough that you cheer when they bite the dust. Some, like Jordi Molla's Santana, are outright bizarre caricatures whose every line of dialogue is (unintentionally?) hilarious. Others, like Dave Bautista's Diaz, succeed despite their paper-thin writing (Bautista is going to kill it in Guardians of the Galaxy, by the way). And then there's Katee Sackhoff's Dahl, the tough lesbian who can beat up every other man but still gets threatened with rape every five seconds. Lovely.

So Riddick transforms from a nearly dialogue-free sci-fi survival story into a slasher movie. Riddick himself vanishes for much of the second act, appearing on the fringes and slowly walking in and out frame like Michael Myers in Halloween. It's an oddball transition that has no right to work and, truth be told, it really doesn't. However, there's something so ballsy and weird about writer-director David Twohy deciding "And now it will become a horror movie!" that it's almost impossible to hate. When the hordes of flesh-eating aliens arrive in act three and everyone, including Riddick, has to team up in order to survive, you just go with it. You're getting three movies for the price of one, and the remake of Pitch Black that comes in the final 30 minutes is just the conclusion of this gonzo triple feature.

It's easy to see that Riddick was entirely financed by independent money (although Universal is distributing it). No studio would have let a movie with a screenplay this delightfully fractured go before the cameras. No studio would have made a movie where the hero is just as awful (and just as rapey) as the "bad guys." No studio would have financed what is essentially a glossy exploitation film. There's an alternate universe where Riddick was made in the '70s by American International Pictures and Fred Williamson stood in for Vin Diesel. This is a film out of time, a raw, dirty and morally despicable experience that barely feels like a movie but hangs together thanks to sheer nerve. This is junk, but damn, it's my kind of junk.

Watching Riddick, I thought less about Pitch Black and more about Galaxy of Terror, the Roger Corman-produced 1981 sci-fi horror movie about a spaceship crew battling an all-powerful alien force on a wasteland planet. It's the kind of film where a giant alien worm rapes a woman to death. It's trash, pure and simple. But oh my, what trash it is! Freed from any kind of shackle, Galaxy of Terror is free to do whatever it wants, kill whomever it wants and take whatever baffling left turn it wants to take. The sleaziness will be a turn off for many (and rightfully so), but for those with high thresholds for lousy acting and inane plotting, it's an unforgettable experience. Now, Riddick is no Galaxy of Terror, but it shares many of those qualities. It's a filthy movie with no redeeming moral qualities... and it wouldn't have it any other way. The film wears it like a badge of honor.

And you know what? That's fine by me.

                 

                 

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