- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

“The Chronicles of Riddick” answers the burning movie question, “Who is this Riddick again?”

Some may recall Vin Diesel started his ascent to action-hero fame as Riddick, the anti-hero of the diverting B-movie “Pitch Black” (2000).

The actor’s subsequent success, not “Black’s” box office tally, may have convinced writer/director David Twohy that a sequel might fly with fans.

Lo and behold we get “Chronicles,” as ambitious as any science fiction film outside the franchise circle (“Star Wars” and “Star Trek”).

But if the title sounds pretentious, it’s nothing compared to the finished product.

Scene after scene twinkles with imagination, only to crash under the weight of its ponderous narrative.

We rejoin a dreadlocked Riddick (Mr. Diesel) five years after the original, still a marked man whose prey should know better than to mess with him.

He winds up crossing paths with a race of conquering spirits dubbed the Necromongers, who will settle for nothing less than universal domination.

Why do villains always shoot so high only to fail? Must be self-esteem issues.

Riddick inexplicably stands in their way because he stems from a race of men that once gave the Necromongers fits.

Large chunks of undramatized back story are related verbally by Riddick and Dame Judi Dench, co-starring as an Elemental who floats around looking dignified amid the brow-knitting actors. However, bring your scratch pads, movie fans, because even this isn’t enough to patch these “Chronicles” together.

Riddick, a loner by trade, has little interest in fighting against the Necromongers until he reunites with Kyra (Alexa Davalos), known as Jack in the first film.

She’s all grown up here, nearly as ferocious as Riddick and easy on his gleaming eyes. Miss Davalos brings some shading to a potentially flat role, one that forcefully tugs Riddick in the right direction.

“Chronicles” introduces a story with such a grandiose vision that it would take several features to do it justice, but even if that were achieved, why build such a tale around Riddick, an admittedly charismatic but limited hero?

Taken in segments, “Riddick” can exhilarate. The lead character’s fighting prowess seems very much his own, remarkable at a time when every fighting hero seems to ape Neo’s moves from “The Matrix.”

A battle sequence on the burning landscape of Crematoria, a prison with a topography that burns at 700 degrees, scorches the screen — but only fleetingly.

The film brushes up against bigger themes — faith, alienation and discrimination — but can’t find the energy to do any of them justice.

Mr. Diesel seems more at home here than in his earthbound features. Maybe it’s that gravel-pit voice or a physique that looks like it came from a laboratory.

He’s a science experiment gone awry, and the film is lucky to have him.

“The Chronicles of Riddick” tries harder than it should, rare in a sequel, but try as the film might, it has still bitten off more story than it can capably chronicle.

**1/2

WHAT: “The Chronicles of Riddick”

RATING: PG-13 (intense violence and strong language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by David Twohy. Produced by Scott Kroopf. Production design by Holger Gross.

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thechronicles-ofriddick.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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