From portentous voiceover intro to mano-a-mano finale, The Chronicles Of Riddick is overblown sci-fi fantasy by very basic numbers. And it all hangs on the hope that the buffed-up, light-sensitive bad-ass played by Vin Diesel in David Twohy's excellent 2000 sleeper hit Pitch Black is complex and iconic enough to warrant further examination.
Unfortunately, he isn't. The first film was a jagged little thrill in which Riddick - - an intergalactic convict with a string of murders to his credit - - emerged as an unlikely anti-hero. Here, he's the focus for the entire film: a snarling prodigal son with the weight of the universe on his vest-clad shoulders.
Twohy sets out his stall early on by having Riddick captured by seedy mercenaries and delivered to an underground prison on Crematoria, a planet periodically frazzled by sun-flashes. The only reason for this is so he can meet Kyra (Alexa Davalos), the young girl from the first film, and escape in a stylish and violent fashion.
It's pretty representative of what follows: an all-too-familiar, pick'n'mix space opera. On one side we have bad guys the Necromongers, led by the eeevil Lord Marshal (Colm Feore). On the other we find the Elementals, a wispy race of soothsayers led by Dame Judi Dench. And in the middle stands The One... sorry, Riddick.
Feore works up a decent sweat as the nefarious villain (it helps that he's just returned from the `Underverse' with the ability to instantaneously transport from one place to another). But this is really Diesel's show, the xXx star drawling out his zingers in an extraordinary Barry White register. Emotion? Well, let's not ask for miracles. Vin is here to ripple, brawl and lock lips with Davalos, all of which he does perfectly well.
A pity he's the only one who seems to know what their agent has signed them up for. Dench (reportedly pestered by Diesel to appear) has an air of polite indulgence that luckily tallies with her character. But the other actors, including Brit babe Thandie Newton and Lord Of The Rings' Karl Urban, look content merely to orbit Diesel's muscular presence.
As long as he's on screen, the action set-pieces rattle along, while the laser fireworks and roaring space cruisers are a cheap thrill. Shame it looks so nasty, though: all airbrushed 2-D backdrops and Battlestar Galactica-style cityscapes. More videogame than movie, in fact.
But the biggest problem with Riddick is the way it tries to con us that the first film was just a set-up for the main event. In Pitch Black, the elements of sci-fi mythology simmered beneath the surface, letting your imagination join the dots. In the sequel, the world arrives too fully formed and forced: a charmless, barely digestable dish of space war, recycled philosophy and action hokum. Looks like Vin chose the wrong franchise.