(director/writer: David Twohy; screenwriters: Jim and Ken Wheat/based on a story by the Wheat brothers; cinematographer: David Eggby; editor: Rick Shaine; cast: Vin Diesel (Riddick), Radha Mitchell (Fry), Cole Hauser (Johns), Keith David (Imam), Lewis Fitz-Gerald (Paris), Claudia Black (Shazza), Rhiana Griffith (Jack/Jackie), John Moore (Zeke), Simon Burke (Greg Owens); Runtime: 108; USA Films/Polygram; 2000)
“It is easy to root for the aliens to possibly, against all odds for such formulaic films, pick off all the survivors of the spacecraft.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

When a spaceship crash-lands on a planet of three suns that is plagued by darkness as a solar eclipse hits, the survivors must fight the nocturnal batlike alien creatures. These aliens avoid the light and strike when it’s dark. The survivors include a dangerous murderer serving a life sentence in maximum security, Riddick (Diesel), who has surgically implanted eyes that shine enabling him to have night vision. He also has awesome muscles that are pumped for action. He wore specially fitted contact lenses to give him that shine job look.

The survivors include: Riddick, who is in chains as he is being transported to another prison; the cruel guard, Johns (Cole Hauser), who it turns out has a few flaws in his personality — which include a morphine habit; and, the spacecraft’s landing pilot, Fry (Radha Mitchell), who becomes the captain when it’s discovered that the captain’s throat had been slashed. These two leaders of the plan to get off the dark planet, Johns and Fry, argue all the time, and trust among the survivors becomes the issue. Fry had her moment of cowardice when landing the plane, as she almost panicked and pulled the cord to eject the passengers. This is something Johns uses against her. The other survivors include: a preachy Muslim imam, a holy man, talking up a storm about God; a prissy English antiquities dealer whose wine collection is used as lighting fuel to get them off this darkened wasteland. And a boy called Jack who turns out to be a girl named Jackie, as discovered through the efforts of Riddick’s nose for sniffing out female hormones.

This sci-fi formula action flick is noteworthy for its splendid cinematography, as it was filmed in the Australian Outback, and also for its innovative editing cuts. The story line left me gasping for more light and the acting left me in the dark searching for one line of dialogue that wasn’t shrill or trite. No actor was provided with a challenging part, but Diesel uses his powerfully muscular presence and deep baritone voice to dominate his scenes. He comes to say one-liners such as: “They did not know who they were f*cking with!” He says this to the dead aliens after he puts them out of their misery, but he might as well have spoken it to a sleeping audience.

The writer/director David Twohy (The Arrival) tries to bring some intelligence to the story, but the script is too shallow and predictable. The characters ranged from a shrill Radha to a cartoonlike Diesel. It is easy to root for the aliens to possibly, against all odds for such formulaic films, pick off all the survivors of the spacecraft. But three do survive and, in my opinion, that’s three too many! This film didn’t have a clue about what point it wanted to make. It was particularly unclear how good or bad they wanted to portray Diesel’s character, as he kept changing from bad to good guy at every alien sighting. By the film’s end I had an empty feeling, knowing I saw another special effect sci-fi film that couldn’t bring on a story.

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