You can’t blame Ritchie for returning to what he does best after almost committing career suicide remaking Swept Away with his missus Madonna. And as it begins Revolver seems very much like a crime caper in the manner of Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Con man Jake Green (Ritchie regular Jason Statham) walks out of prison vowing to exact revenge upon the mobster responsible for putting him behind bars: Macha (Ray Liotta). Jake embarrasses Macha at the roulette table but before he can enjoy his spoils he’s diagnosed with an incurable disease that will kill him in three days. Help comes from an unexpected source: Two loan sharks (Andre Benjamin and Vincent Pastore) offer to keep Jake alive—but only if he gives them all his ill-gotten gains and does their every bidding. That includes stealing drugs and money from an increasing paranoid Macha. Jake thinks he’s being hustled. But he isn’t. We are. It’s at this point that Revolver sadly goes off on its philosophical and psychological tangents. Ritchie not only reveals that Jake possesses a mathematical formula to pulling off the ultimate con but he introduces an unseen boss of bosses whose presence hangs heavy over the proceedings. You cling to the faint hope that Ritchie’s doing his own spin on The Usual Suspects but as time crawls by it’s evident he’s trying to wreck his comeback bid by misguidedly playing amateur psychologist in much the same way David Fincher did with Fight Club. Five minutes into Revolver and you’re hoping Jake Green dies a swift death. And it’s not because Statham—who plays Jake like a more subdued version of Crank’s Chev Chelios minus the mid-Atlantic growl—is better suited to roles that require more brawl and less brains. It’s just that Statham never stops with his narration. He babbles on and on and on. Admittedly Statham’s narration allows us to make some sense of what’s going on in the murky and muddled Revolver. But Ritchie doesn’t use Statham judiciously. Everything that happens—big or small—must be addressed. And it wouldn’t be so bloody annoying if at least Ritchie made the narration colorful and engaging or if Statham delivered it without such weariness. At least our favorite Goodfella is around to break up the monotony. Just weeks after spoofing his volcanic screen image in Bee Movie Liotta threatens to erupt like Mount Vesuvius at the slightest provocation. He’s also something of a sight to behold when he’s holding court wearing nothing but bikini briefs and a tan that George Hamilton would kill for. The nattily Benjamin plays up the cooler-than-thou persona he’s perfected with OutKast which makes it easy to believe he always has the upper hand over everyone else in Revolver. On the other hand Pastore never makes his loan shark as smart as he’s supposed to be but at least he wisely tones down his Sopranos shtick. Crime once paid handsomely for Guy Ritchie. Not now though. The only true enemy is your own ego psychiatrists and psychologists put forth during the end credits. OK at least this explains a little why Revolver is the incoherent mess that is. But it also leads you to the inescapable conclusion that Ritchie was at war with himself when he plotted his gangland homecoming. It was inevitable that Ritchie’s ambitions would have gotten the best of him after his Swept Away public beating. Unfortunately Ritchie’s attempt to apply The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to his fun flashy and frenetic brand of crime capers backfires in his face. Ritchie simply doesn’t have the same insights into the criminal mind that say The Sopranos creator David Chase does. And the endless references to chess theory numerology and Kabbalic traditions prove to be more confusing than enlightening. Perhaps all this would be tolerable if Revolver was half the adrenaline rush that was Snatch. But Ritchie peels away at the film’s psychological layers at a plodding pace. Consequently this isn’t the triumph of substance over style that Ritchie desperately wants it to be. And even its current form which is reportedly 10 minutes shorter than the two-year-old U.K. version Revolver is pointless and impenetrable. There are the occasional flashes of vintage Ritchie especially during a brilliantly executed shootout involving a renegade hitman and an animated sequence right out of Kill Bill. This though leaves you wondering what Revolver would have been had Ritchie not put a gun to his own head.
Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel) has a really bad rep and with good reason: Five years ago convicted killer Riddick escaped the galaxy's law enforcement during a botched interplanetary prison transfer and has been on the lam ever since. As The Chronicles of Riddick picks up our antagonist finds his relative freedom has been compromised when mercenaries out for the $1 million bounty on his head discover his location and hunt him down. Riddick escapes their clutches steals their ship and sets off for Planet Helion to find Imam (Keith David) the Muslim cleric he rescued in Pitch Black and the only person who could have squealed his location to authorities. But while Riddick's hunch about Imam are correct the cleric has a reason for luring the mammoth murderer out of hiding: Helion is falling to unholy armies of Necromongers--warriors who conquer by force in the vein of Star Trek's Borg. Of course Riddick doesn't give a damn about the Helions or their plight--until he gets wind that the Necromogers want to kill him because of an old prophecy that foresees their end at Riddick's hands. Like it or not Riddick is left with no other choice but to battle the Necromongers.
The character of Riddick is unquestionably what made Pitch Black one of the most sequel-worthy sci-fi films in years. And Riddick would not have been one of sci-fi's most intoxicating characters if it weren't for Diesel. Like his Dominic Toretto in the 2001 actioner The Fast and the Furious Riddick is a villain of few words but when he speaks his carefully chosen words have impact--even if the dialogue is at times overly theatrical. Riddick is the perfect antihero; a cold-blooded and indifferent being who somehow evokes more compassion than the film's so-called good guys. Joining Riddick are some recurring characters including David as Imam but Riddick benefits the most from the addition of some new characters particularly Colm Feore as Lord Marshal the Necromonger leader whose goal is to rid the universe of all human life. Feore channeling nuggets of Julius Caesar into his role makes for one of Riddick's most thrilling foes. Another prominent addition to the cast is Judi Dench who has a surprisingly small role as Aereon an Elemental captured by the Necromongers and used for her special powers including ESP.
Writer/director David Twohy took his horror pic Pitch Black which gained a cult following since it was released four years ago and managed to successfully turn it into an sci-fi actioner of epic proportions. Everything is grander here which is almost a given considering Twohy shot Pitch Black on a dime in Australia using colored filters. In Riddick the director distinguishes the film's different environments--the Necros' mothership Crematoria's cavernous prison and Helion--using warm to cool tones that are dazzling yet more subtle than its predecessor. The CGI effects get a little gamey at times but production designer Holger Gross' gargantuan sets are impressive and help craft Twohy's otherworldly vision into a plausible one. And although Twohy jumps genres from Pitch Black to its sequel his storyline evolves logically from the original premise. But while moviegoers unfamiliar with Pitch Black will be able to follow the story easily enough they may have a difficult time grasping what makes Riddick such a big deal; the film explains the legend but never fully captures its quintessence. This could hurt Riddick's chances to broaden its Pitch Black fan base.