An obsessed archaeologist named Kale (Luke Goss) is hidden away in the hills of the desert researching a Native American tribe that mysteriously disappeared. With the help of a well-meaning Indian historian (Russell Means) Kale discovers that a creature destroyed the tribe and he inadvertently unearths the remnants of the monster. Along with Goss the monster traps a rag-tag group of people including an alcoholic female sheriff (Emmanuelle Vaugier) a grizzled rancher (M.C. Gainey) a wise-cracking dude (Charlie Murphy) and others. To their horror this creature is a ruthless and cold-blooded killer who picks them off one by one. Although there are some character actors doing what they do best--especially Means as the wise and haughty Native American grandfather--in general the acting is pretty mediocre. Vaugier tries to do more with her role as the outcast alcoholic who's trying to hold onto her job as the local sheriff but ultimately it's one note. As is Goss as the obsessed scientist desperately trying to bring some veritas to his performance. Actually the very weirdly-shaped creature is the best actor of the bunch and that's not saying much. Matthew Leutwyler made a splash with his zombie comedy musical Dead and Breakfast and tries to follow up with Unearthed. He has assembled a competent special effects team to create one helluva creature--not your usual garden-variety monster here. This creature spits balls of acid which turn into worm-like things that burrow into people's skin. The creature also seems to have claws for hands and needles that come out of his skeleton. Nice image huh? Good thing Unearthed has such a scary villain because this film otherwise would be dullsville.
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.
Sunny Holiday (Jon Gries) has no doubt he's the next George Jones. In search of stardom he leaves his wife (Daryl Hannah) and baby steals her pink Chrysler and embarks on a nine-month tour of every dive western town he can hit on the way to Los Angeles. He takes with him his ineffectual manager Les (Garrett Morris) who guides Sunny's every move from picking out his clothes to setting up his interviews. Along the way Sunny encounters a variety of backwater females who are ready (but not always able) for a one night stand: Janice (Peggy Lipton) proves too much for him; Cheryl (Crystal Bernard) passes out on the couch; Tangi (Camellia Clouse) Cheryl's teenage daughter tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. Nothing seems to go right for Sunny who gets arrested dumps Les and ends up taking refuge with his just-as-much-a-loser brother Tracy (Anthony Edwards).
So nice to see Morris in this especially since his slick shyster Les is about the only character who manages to liven up this dreary pic. Gries is not funny not charming certainly not handsome--how he manages to get laid (or picked up) as much as he does is a confounding mystery. (The chicks are hicks to be sure but would Tangi the nubile teenager really be into a guy who's not only as old as her father but who looks like he's roped one too many steers as well?) Bernard pulls off her drunk scenes quite well especially when she falls off a bar bathroom toilet. Hannah's and Edwards's parts are basically cameos but in her few scenes Hannah nicely elicits sympathy as the frustrated and angry wife who sees no merit in her husband's gallivanting particularly since she's left with the baby and no money. Look for Mac Davis in a cameo as well as Sunny's big competition Sammy Bones.
Yet another set of brothers Michael and Mark Polish wrote and produced this follow-up to their 1999 Sundance success Twin Falls Idaho. But where Falls was a beautifully quirky look at unordinary people who want to be ordinary Jackpot is an overly arty look at some ordinary down-home folks who want to be extraordinary. Problem is they're so ordinary you don't care what they want or how they plan to get it. Michael who also directed keeps the pace slow and languorous--are these karaoke-ing schmoes ever going to get to their destination? Sitting through scene after scene of Sunny either picking up a woman or singing bad country and western is tediously painful. Not to mention the music sucks.