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Friday, June 11, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Riddick" riddled with sci-fi mumbo jumbo

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review

*
"The Chronicles of Riddick," with Vin Diesel, Thandie Newton, Karl Urban, Judi Dench. Written and directed by David Twohy. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language. Several theaters.
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Don't think you have to see "Pitch Black" to understand its sequel, the sci-fi/action-thriller "The Chronicles of Riddick." I saw "Pitch Black" two weeks ago, and I still didn't get all of "Riddick."

The terms come at you — excuse me, Vin — fast and furious. Necromongers. Furyans. The Purifier. The Underverse. Crematoria. Of course, these terms could've originated in one of Riddick's other showcases: a 2000 TV production, a 30-minute animated feature being released this month or the "Riddick" video game. It's a whole other universe out there. To paraphrase e.e. cummings: Let's not go.

Worse, it's Gene Roddenberry's universe. "Pitch Black" borrowed heavily from "Alien," and now "Riddick" is boldly going where Capt. Picard has gone before.

Basically, Riddick is fighting a race similar to "Star Trek's" Borg: aliens that destroy planets and assimilate survivors. The Borg were more mechanized, though, and thus scarier.

The Necromongers (awful name) have a quasi-religious bent. "Convert now or fall forever," they say. (Not exactly the Borg's famous observation: "Resistance is futile.") Necromonger iconography is dark Egyptian, although some wear chain mail like medieval knights, while others borrow the long leather coats of Nazi officers. Apparently, planets are being assimilated into a very large wardrobe department.

So it's five years after "Pitch Black" and Riddick (Vin Diesel), who just wants to be left alone, is being pursued by mercenaries, or mercs, and suspects his old pal Imam (Keith David) of fronting the money. He confronts him (with a blade) and learns that Imam's planet is about to be taken over by Necromongers. Will Riddick help? "Not my fight," he responds laconically. Of course it becomes his fight.

In the ensuing onslaught, Riddick is captured and the Necromongers are curious about him, particularly the Lord Marshall (Colm Feore). Riddick's a Furyan, and it's been prophesied that a Furyan will overthrow the empire.

Before the audience can blink, though, or distinguish among the various Necromongers, Riddick escapes and is then recaptured by the mercs, who take him to Crematoria, a subterranean prison planet. There he becomes reacquainted with Jack, who, in "Pitch Black," was a 12-year-old tomboy. In the intervening years, she's blossomed into a tall, ass-kicking French model (Alexa Davalos). We should all have such puberties.

"Riddick" wants to be epic but feels stunted — like it's hemmed in by an adolescent boy's imagination. It introduces too many characters, including Thandie Newton as an over-the-top Lady Macbeth schemer, and Dame Judi Dench, of all dames, as an ambassador from a ghostlike race. The villains, meanwhile, have a huge, absurd Achilles' heel.

Diesel makes a fine action star, and some of the fight scenes are cool, but resistance is recommended.

Erik Lundegaard: elundegaard@comcast.net

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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