There are few things as pleasurable as high-quality pulp, and "Riddick," starring Vin Diesel as humanoid ex-convict Richard B. Riddick, fits the bill. It's B-grade cinema made with A-level intelligence and imagination -- skillfully directed, surprisingly well acted and gratifyingly preposterous.
It's the third installment in a sci-fi franchise that began promisingly with 2000's "Pitch Black" but got derailed by two things. One was the 2001 hot-rod flick "The Fast and the Furious," which launched a successful series that stole Diesel away. The other was 2004's "The Chronicles of Riddick," a toned-down space fantasy that was poorly received. The title of "Riddick" suggests a reintroduction, and writer-director David Twohy, the man behind all three movies, seems thrilled to be back in the game.
Granted, he takes a while to get things warmed up. After a lengthy flashback to the previous story line (a distant kingdom, a nefarious betrayal) and some corny, noirish narration ("How did I let them blindside me like that?"), "Riddick" finally gets down to brutal business. It begins as a man-versus-nature story, with Riddick traversing a hostile planet full of freaky CGI creatures. Things get complicated when two teams of bounty hunters begin competing for Riddick's head. And wouldn't you know it -- a looming storm may force everyone to join forces.
"Riddick" repeats many a beat (and scene, and line) from the first film, but there are several improvements. Diesel mixes vulnerability into his machismo -- he at least winces while hand drilling screws into his shinbones -- which makes him more likable and less predictable. He's supported by a colorful, crackling cast, including Jordi Mollá ("Colombiana") as the unscrupulous Santana and Katee Sackhoff (Sci Fi's "Battlestar Galactica") as a hard-hitting hottie named -- what else? -- Dahl.
What's more, the special effects can be startlingly good. Riddick's alien-jackal companion, a combination of puppetry and computer animation, seems so alive that he should have shared top billing.
"Riddick" has plenty of flaws, but there's something refreshing about a genre flick that isn't winking at itself (like, say, "Iron Man") or trying to be profound (like "Elysium"). "Riddick" is dead serious about being ridiculously entertaining.
PLOT A space-age criminal and his pursuers are stranded on a hostile planet.
RATING R (violence, gore, nudity, language)
CAST Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollá, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff
BOTTOM LINE Diesel's dormant sci-fi franchise gets jolted back to life by this smart, funny, entertaining action flick.
THREEQUELS A LONG TIME COMING
"Riddick" fans sure are patient -- it's been nine years since "The Chronicles of Riddick," film No. 2 in the franchise. But that's nothing compared to how long it took for the threequels in these film series to get made.
THE GODFATHER PART III (1990) -- Francis Ford Coppola for years nixed offers to do a follow-up to 1974's "The Godfather Part II." But he was still hurting financially from his 1982 flop, "One From the Heart," when Paramount made him an offer he couldn't refuse -- $5 million plus 15 percent of the gross, a $4 million loan and total creative control.
TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003) -- A sequel to 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" had long been proposed, but director James Cameron wanted no part of it. And neither did star Arnold Schwarzenegger until Cameron advised him to do it -- for nothing less than $30 million.
TOY STORY 3 (2010) -- The toys were back in town 15 years after "Toy Story 2." What took so long? Creative differences between Disney and Pixar, a script that took two years to pen and making the film in 3-D.
MEN IN BLACK 3 (2012) -- Director Barry Sonnenfeld began planning "MIB3" while making "MIB2" in 2002, but time didn't fly as he worked on the tricky time-travel-centric screenplay.
-- Daniel Bubbeo