By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
September 19th, 2013
Sitting at the sun-dappled table enjoying my morning coffee, I looked out the window, anticipating what birds and squirrels might visit to partake of whatever late summer’s bounty my backyard has made available. It was a scene in stark contrast to the ugly visions rummaging in the other half of my brain.
It was writing day. Resignedly, the warrior alerting his lady fair of the mission that waited, I pulled myself up from the picture window idyll, looked to my afflatus and begrudgingly muttered, “Have to go write this stupid ‘Riddick’ review.” I was bid adieu and issued a confidently tempered “Good luck.”
But rest assured, dear reader, the self-important preamble to my assigned duty is mere, ritualistic drama, and shall in no way detract from the objectivity of this criticism. Well, not much.
Truth is, specifically in the case of director David Twohy’s “Riddick,” the 15-year-old me that’s been visiting my preoccupations of late has found himself at odds with the more mature, summa sort-a graduate of Olde Ivy Film Criticism College.
To the uninitiated, this third installment in the franchise that Mr. Twohy has shepherded along with Vin Diesel, the title character in all three, is pretty nutty stuff. As is the fashion with fictional heroes and antiheroes, there is much lore and lexicon to learn, concocted if for no other reason than to assert that these ruminations are every bit as legitimate as those pondered in the real world.
But even my adolescent alias, who enjoyed the visceral thrills and outlandishness of the R-rated action drama the more tasteful, older me accompanied him to see, would opine that “Riddick’s” world is hardly the place to which one would want to escape. Think desolate, godforsaken planets populated with all manner of repulsive, murderous monsters…especially these big, slimy, snaky-pterodactyl combo jobs with scorpion-like pincers.
There is no waiting for your dumpster load of violence. Shortly after Riddick cuts a deal with an adversary for a roadmap back home, predators affording him an opportunity to show us his indomitable survival skills appear in the form of dog-like beasts. And, only to confound us with an uncharacteristic bit of sentimentality, he adopts a puppy from among the bizarre canine species. Gee, he can’t be all bad.
Well, that’s just it, isn’t it…the reason for Riddick’s popularity? While I solicited an expert opinion from a university’s august psychology department, I fear they thought it was my 15-year-old alter ego making a phony phone call. Therefore, with no theory forthcoming, I’m forced to fudge it in the following paragraphs.
Convolutedly put, we reach a threshold in youth when we can finally wrap our little brains around the truth about lying. Twain informed that there were three types of lies: a white lie, a damn lie and statistics. I’d like to add a fourth. It’s the hypocrisy at the root of “Do as I say, not as I do.” Jack Nicholson defines it in “A Few Good Men” (1992) when he vociferously exclaims: “You can’t handle the truth.” Such is the diplomacy of duplicity.
All of which is why we enjoy the liberation represented by people of Riddick’s ilk. Although I prefer the charming permutation personified by Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), the appeal is in their perceived freedom, the gumption to proceed on their convictions, no matter how zany or aberrant, and let the chips fall where they may.
And then there’s another lure. Ferreting through life’s multifarious shades of gray and the enigmatic uncertainties therein implied, it is nonetheless in our better nature to find the good in things.
So yes, Riddick is a bona fide killing machine, a ruthless survivalist worthy of a separate tome from Mr. Darwin. Still, as fellow humanoids, we like to think he possesses a redeeming altruism. Besides, he’s our cold-blooded killer, and never really dispenses with anyone unless they really need killing.
Hence, while your average Saturday night Cineplex attendee thrills at the unmitigated wrath Riddick unleashes on bounty hunters, alien monsters and every other manner of imagined ill, we know for whom that vicarious venom is really intended: i.e.—The auto mechanic that cheated you (even had the gall to make up a part name); the receptionist that was mean; the disingenuous help line tech in Outer Slobovia who is of absolutely no help (“I feel your pain Mr. Goldberger”), etc., etc., etc.
Unfortunate readers of this column may have by this time surmised that my pretentious pontifications in lieu of plot details suggest that this is hardly Shakespeare. Likewise, Vin Diesel’s performance will doubtfully have The Globe beckoning for his thespic services. But he grunts well and issues threats in a convincing tone. Suffice it to note, they try to kill him and he tries to kill them better. And to see “Riddick” for any other reason is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
“Riddick,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by David Twohy and stars Vin Diesel, Matt Nable and Jordi Molla. Running time: 119 minutes