‘Riddick” wants to reboot a franchise that barely got off the ground the first time. Way back in 2000, screenwriter David Twohy (”The Fugitive”) made his directorial debut with “Pitch Black,” a lean post-”Alien” sci-fi/horror movie that impressively exploited our fears of things that go bump in the night and then eat your face off. Twohy took one of that movie’s few survivors, the hulking antihero named Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel), and put him in 2004’s “The Chronicles of Riddick,” an incomprehensibly over-plotted mishmash of “Star Wars” and Joseph Campbell. An animated Riddick short and a few video games also turned up around this time.
But it never took, and it’s only due to Diesel’s renewed box office clout, via the “Fast & Furious” movies, that we have a third entry in the series, titled like a modest re-introduction and struggling to get back to what was so good about the first film.
It makes it about half the way there. Produced (and reportedly bankrolled) by Diesel, “Riddick” ditches the complex sci-fi mythology of “Chronicles” — the galaxy-hopping über-hero, the eeevil Necromongers — and just lets Riddick get back to being a badass. Once again he’s stranded on an isolated planet, and the movie’s first 30 minutes are a no-frills operating manual on how to survive a hostile desert environment populated by alien jackals and slavering giant scorpion thingies.
Someone else has to show up sooner or later, so “Riddick” introduces not one but two groups of bounty hunters intent on bringing back the intergalactic criminal dead or alive. The scruffy, unwashed team is led by the sneering Santana (Jordi Mollà), who really belongs in a Sergio Leone western. The yuppie bounty hunters wearing cool uniforms are overseen by a top dog (Matt Nable) with ties to a character from Riddick’s past and include Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), a butch warrior whom the movie makes sure to provide with a gratuitous shower scene.
This is back-to-basics stuff, which turns out to be not such a bad idea. Much of “Riddick” concerns itself with a battle of wits (and knives) (and bear-traps) as the nearly-superhuman hero turns the tables on his pursuers and picks them off one by one, then everyone joins forces to fight off a late-inning onslaught of the scorpion-thingies.
It all goes on too long, the sets look as if they were left over from “Star Trek” — the original “Star Trek” — and the script paints itself into a corner with a last-minute 180-degree attitude adjustment on the part of a major character. But at least “Riddick” has a sense of humor about itself and an understanding that B-movie pleasures are often preferable to A-franchise ambitions. Will Riddick return? Who cares? It’s still nice to have him back this once.Ty Burr can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.