The 2000 film Pitch Black was a superior, economical genre exercise in the tough, unsentimental tradition of Walter Hill. It didn't demand a sequel, let alone a mega-budgeted space opus that boldly announces itself as the foundation for a sprawling science-fiction franchise. Where Pitch Black was an overachieving Alien knockoff, its sequel is an underachieving Star Wars wannabe.
As bloated and ponderous as its predecessor was lean and focused, Chronicles ups the stakes along with the budget while jettisoning just about everything that made Pitch Black stand out from other thrillers about weary humans battling nefarious space beasties. The film, which snagged a PG-13 rating in spite of constant carnage, finds Vin Diesel's wisecracking, muscle-bound killing machine simultaneously battling mercenaries out for the bounty on his head and an evil race determined to convert or kill everyone in its path—sort of like Scientologists, only not as sinister.
It's easy to see why filmmakers persist in going where George Lucas and company have profitably gone before, but Riddick's convoluted mythology, wooden dialogue, and interminable action sequences serve as a dispiriting reminder that for every Star Wars, there are two dozen Wing Commanders. Though not as dire as Battlefield Earth, Riddick is in spots silly, grungy, and misguided enough to inspire flashbacks. The evil zealots out to convert and/or kill Diesel just aren't frightening or intimidating, though it doesn't help that one looks like Hedwig And The Angry Inch's John Cameron Mitchell sans makeup and wig, while another sports a Billy Ray Cyrus-style space mullet.
Riddick's ending has a loopy charm, but it would be more forceful if it didn't follow a fight scene whose arc and moves suggest that it belongs on WWE's Intergalactic Smackdown. Of the supporting cast, only Thandie Newton—who plays a space-opera version of Lady Macbeth—makes much of an impression, and that has more to do with her form-fitting outfits than her character's personality. The camera adores her, but there's something sad about an ambitious, hugely expensive, special-effects-filled extravaganza whose only memorable aspect is a beautiful woman's cleavage. As befits a film with heavy-handed Shakespearean undertones, The Chronicles Of Riddick is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.