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The Razz: Movie reviews: Totally Riddick-ulous; THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK #####15 Scary sci-fi sequel doesn't quite match up to its predecessor.

Byline: ALAN MORRISON

BIGGER doesn't always mean better. Case in point: The Matrix. The original was an era- defining cyberpunk classic that made the most of its neat ideas and cool design.

The sequels were bloated beasts filled with pretentious philosophy, where massive budgets failed to cover the lack of true entertainment value.

Overblown, misguided follow-ups aren't solely the domain of science fiction, although the latest offender is also set in a futuristic world.

And it makes the same mistake of going spend, spend, spend instead of developing the strengths of its predecessor.

Four years ago, Pitch Black crept up on audiences when we weren't looking.

Part sci-fi, part horror movie, it used its estimated $23million budget wisely, with fast bursts of action and terror.

Stranded on a faraway planet, its cast of characters found themselves relying on vicious criminal Richard B Riddick (Vin Diesel) and his shiny, see-in-the-dark eyes as they battled against pterodactyl-headed monsters which only came out to feed at nightfall.

The creature design was scary and original, while the frights came along regularly as the characters were picked off one by one in good, old-fashioned horror style. And, in Riddick, a new cinema anti-hero was born.

Since then, however, the fuel has trickled out of Diesel's tank. Hollywood promised us he was the new Arnold Schwarzenegger but, as we've said before, he's fast becoming the new Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Pitch Black and The Fast And The Furious took him to the edge of action superstar greatness. A Man Apart and xXx pushed him to the back of the queue again. The Chronicles Of Riddick does nothing to help his case.

The story is set five years after the end of Pitch Black. Riddick has been hiding out on a lonely, snowy planet, letting his beard grow full and his hair grow matted. But the arrival of a band of mercenaries disturbs his peace.

In order to discover who has placed a new bounty on his head, he steals their ship and heads for Helion Prime, home of the Imam (Keith David) he saved in the original movie. Now the nonsense begins.

An Elemental Ambassador (Judi Dench) has decided that Riddick is perhaps the last of the Fureons, the only warrior race feared by the Necromongers.

And who, pray tell, are they? Well, they're the crusading army of religious zealots who come to each and every planet with a kill-or-convert agenda in order to establish what they call the Underverse.

It gets worse. There's a plot to overthrow Necromonger leader, the Lord Marshall (Colm Feore), by the commander of his Armada, Vaako (Karl Urban).Vaako is being egged on by his ambitious wife (Thandie Newton), who seems to believe she is an interstellar Lady Macbeth.

Just when we're getting the hang of this sub-Dune rubbish, Riddick is whisked off by the same mercenary leader as before, to be dumped in the triple maximum security prison on Crematoria (that'll be the name of a hot planet, then).

This is exactly where 'Jack', the girl masquerading as a boy whom he also saved in Pitch Black, happens to be stationed.

Except that Jack now calls herself Kyra (Alexa Davalos). She's angry at Riddick for abandoning her. In the small amount of emotional baggage he carries, Riddick feels guilty over this. And so on and so on.

There's a bit of class to the art design, particularly the quasi-medieval armour and helmets worn by the Necromongers and the heavy metal decor of their spaceships. But all of that is ruined by actors standing in front of planetary landscapes that simply look like paintings.

In fact, for a film with a budget a notch over $100million, there's very little CGI, as the fight scenes prefer to make use of Diesel's brawn than a computer's brain. This film is not the visual spectacle that it thinks it is, and the release of cartoon and computer game tie-ins doesn't convince us that Riddick is a viable franchise.

Maybe the money went on the cast, as Dench, Feore and Linus Roache (as Necromonger high priest, The Purifier) are fine actors slumming it here for the pay cheque. But even they can't rescue the cod-mythological dialogue they're forced to spout.

Mind you, those lines aren't the worst on offer. At one point, Diesel sniffs Newton's neck and says, 'It's a long time since I smelled beautiful.' Indeed, Vin, because your career is beginning to stink as well.

CAPTION(S):

BLACK LOOKS:; Far left, Vin Diesel and Thandie Newton glower and, left, the shell-suited bad guys get on the march
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 27, 2004
Words:764
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Next Article:The Razz: Movie reviews: Life lessons to rise out of the shallows; RAISING HELEN PG #####.


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