The Chronicles of Riddick

Starring Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, and Judi Dench. Rated 14A.

Though hardly more than a mediocre Aliens knockoff, director David Twohy's 2000 sci-fi horror flick, Pitch Black, managed to develop something of a cult following when it was released on video. It was about a musclebound convict named Riddick (Vin Diesel) who crash-lands with his captors on a desolate planet where fierce, flying creatures come out after dark to savage anything that moves. Because Riddick is endowed with silver-blue pupils that give him night vision, he quickly transforms into the reluctant antihero trying to save everybody else--including "Jack", the boy who's really a girl--from becoming midnight snacks. The moderately budgeted Pitch Black focused mainly on two things: the ferocity of the winged monstrosities and the ultramacho appeal of the brooding, authority-hating Riddick. Guess which element carries over into the sequel.

The Chronicles of Riddick picks up five years after the events of Pitch Black, with Riddick literally on the run from a band of inept, bounty-hunting mercenaries. He really just wants to be left alone, but he winds up being summoned from exile by one of the previous film's survivors, a cleric named Imam (Keith David) who needs the tough guy's help in fighting an unholy army of conquering warriors called Necromongers. At this point it becomes clear that Chronicles has completely dumped the horror angle of its predecessor in favour of epic sci-fi action-adventure. No matter. Diesel looks just as buffed in his black tank top and leather armbands as he did in the first one.

When Twohy's camera isn't lingering too long over coproducer Diesel's bulging, sweaty biceps, there are some interesting things to see, like the imaginative array of massive sets, unique spacecraft, and futuristic gadgetry on display. But all the stunning visuals in the world can't raise Chronicles above the level of a ridiculous Rambo-in-space flick. Pitch Black's "Jack" has transformed into an ass-kicking babe named Kyra (Alexa Davalos), whom the swashbuckling Riddick swoops by and saves from the disintegrating rays of planet Crematoria's sun. Colm Feore puts on his best cranky face as head Necromonger Lord Marshal, but the way he uses his bare hands to yank the reluctant souls from his enemies' bodies is almost as silly as the comical headpieces he and underling Purifier (Linus Roache) sport. And what the hell is Dame Judi Dench doing in this overblown mess, flittering about as the amorphous ambassador Aereon? Didn't the revered Academy Award--winner realize that the film's main attraction was a one-note action star with about as much acting talent as her left baby toe?