After a much-needed nine-year layoff (it takes that much time to recover from an epic failure like 2004's "The Chronicles of Riddick"), Vin Diesel and his resurgent career are back in "Riddick," the third film in the sci-fi action franchise featuring the title character. And as our intergalactic badass tells us in a voice over: "There are bad days. Then there are legendary bad days. This was shaping up to be one of those."
After being stripped of his Chronicles of Riddick crown by Vaako (a returning Karl Urban, who we get to see for about two minutes - what a waste!), Riddick believes he's being sent back to his home planet of Furya. However, it's really just an effort to kill him - and if you've seen any of the Riddick movies, you know that things don't work out well for those who try to kill Riddick.
Even so, it's not like our antihero winds up unscathed. After the failed attempt on his life, Riddick struggles to survive on an unfamiliar, barely habitable planet filled with wild alien dogs, impressively terrifying amphibious scorpion-like monsters and equally unimpressive-looking pterodactyl-like vultures, all on a desert CGI landscape that's a cross between Georges Méliès' 1902 silent classic "A Trip to the Moon" and the 1980 cheese fest "Flash Gordon."
The pace quickens when Riddick discovers an outpost seemingly set up by bounty hunters. He activates a beacon, knowing full well that the call signal will identify him, which means bounty hunters will immediately come looking for him. For Riddick, it's a means to get off the planet - but he has no intention of leaving as anybody's prisoner.
Two separate teams show up. The first is led by Santana (Jordi Mollà), a ruthless, machete-wielding sort whose stupidity in hunting Riddick belies the seeming success he's had a bounty hunter. The other team is led by Boss Johns (Matt Nable), a smarter, more reasonable type with a well-trained, disciplined crew including Katee Sackhoff's Dahl, an impressive warrior who backs down to no man.
What starts out with little conflict evolves into a multi-layered, tension-filled, all-out orgy of conflict, concentrated by the confines of a single planet and highlighted by some creative, graphic violence.
"Riddick" requires Vin Diesel to flex some serious acting muscle and he's a damn good actor. He'll probably never win an Oscar but the action star does a wonderful job here of providing the audience with nuance and truth while clearly performing in a green-screen environment for the post-production CGI effects. None of those effects are terribly exciting, however, if Diesel doesn't execute here, and he does.
Speaking of those effects, with a less-than-modest budget of $38 million the movie occasionally looks as if it was made with a less-than-modest budget of $38 million. But that's OK, because what "Riddick" lacks in production values it makes up in sheer entertainment value and badassery.
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.