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Film review: Diesel is running on fumes in ‘Riddick’

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THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK — * 1/2 — Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, brief gore, vulgarity).

OK, can we just admit that touting Vin Diesel as the Next Big Thing was a really big mistake and move on? He may have had some initial promise — thanks to his supporting turn in "Saving Private Ryan" and voicing the title character in "The Iron Giant" — but Diesel has followed up those films with a series of increasingly one-note performances in a series of increasingly awful movies.

There was some reason to have hope for "The Chronicles of Riddick," a sequel to "Pitch Black" (2000), which featured his last half-decent performance. But "Riddick" is an incoherent mishmash of ideas swiped from other, better science-fiction sources, chiefly the "Star Wars," "Star Trek" and "Matrix" movies. And despite showing some physicality, Diesel's running on fumes.

"The Chronicles of Riddick" catches up with Diesel's mysterious prison escapee five years later, and he's still on the run. But now he's ready to confront his pursuers. So he finds himself on the planet of Helion Prime, which has been invaded by the Necromongers, a race of aliens with a "convert-or-kill" philosophy — mostly the latter.

As it turns out, the Helions believe Riddick is the prophesied warrior who will kill the Necromonger leader, the evil Grand Marshal (Colm Feore). But first, he has to free himself from captivity. And he still has a little unfinished business with Kyra (Alexa Davalos), who may or may not be the person he rescued five years earlier.

While director David Twohy's pacing ensures that "Riddick" is never boring, he can't hide the horrid dialogue and inconsistent-at-best CGI special effects (the work on alien prison guard dogs is especially bad).

As for Diesel, he's in full mumbling mode, which might be a good thing, considering how lame most of his retorts and one-liners are.

Of all the cast members, Thandie Newton appears to be the only one who realizes how ridiculous it all is. Her over-the-top histrionics are at least amusing. On the other hand, Judi Dench looks bored in her role, a stock expository character.

"The Chronicles of Riddick" is rated PG-13 for science-fiction and action violence (brawling, stabbings, laser blasts and explosive mayhem), occasional use of strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), brief gore, and use of some crude sexual slang terms. Running time: 117 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com