Riddick-ulous Diesel, squeaky-clean ‘Direction’

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FS, Contributing Writer

 

                                  “Riddick”

Vin Diesel as the ruthless Riddick.  –Photo courtesy of Jan Thijs
Vin Diesel as the ruthless Riddick.
–Photo courtesy of Jan Thijs

 

Vin Diesel, the big bald bruiser with the perpetual scowl and surly attitude, reprises the role of the outer-space antihero he originated in Pitch Black with Riddick (wide release), an Aliens clone that wears out its welcome long before its grueling two-hour running time is over.

In this installment, he’s lured by enemies to a barren planet where he’s left for dead. Of course he survives, overcoming some grotesque monsters resembling huge snakes with scorpion heads even as he fixes his own broken leg and makes a pet of a ravenous oversized hyena, a CGI critter that proves considerably more expressive than its master.

Riddick plans to escape the inhospitable place by attracting the notice of a couple of ships manned by bounty hunters anxious to collect the reward for bringing him in dead or alive. His intention, of course, is to take over one of the spacecraft for himself. But that means watching most of their crews fall prey to the flesh-devouring snakes before joining the survivors in fighting them off.

The effects in the picture aren’t state-of-the-art, but they’re adequate. What sinks Riddick is terrible dialogue, in which the attempts at humor are no better than the tedious narration monotonously intoned by Diesel, and performances in which virtually all the mercenaries–even the lone female–try to out-macho everyone else.

It’s hard to decide which of the star’s two ongoing franchises is worse–this or The Fast and the Furious. Talk about a photo finish.

 

“One Direction:

This Is Us”

 

The English boy band One Direction, which entrepreneur Simon Cowell has cannily turned into the flavor of the month among tween girls worldwide, receives near-hagiographic treatment in One Direction: This Is Us (wide release), which combines concert footage, behind-the-scenes tour antics, interviews and footage of the five guys’ visits with their families in their ordinary working-class homes. This is hardly a warts-and-all treatment but rather a no-warts-at-all one that fans will love while non-fans wonder how anybody could take the band’s bubble-gum music seriously.

Still, Morgan Spurlock directs with a sure hand. The musical sequences are well-shot, with the 3-D format adding a genuine touch of immediacy, and the supporting material is adroitly edited.

And at least tickets to the movie are much cheaper than tickets to one of the band’s live shows. But be prepared for just as many screams from the audience.

“Getaway”

Selena Gomez and Ethan Hawke in "Getaway".  –Photo courtesy of Beyond Hollywood
Selena Gomez and Ethan Hawke in “Getaway”.
–Photo courtesy of Beyond Hollywood

 

If Liam Neeson succeeded as an action hero in pictures like Taken, why shouldn’t Ethan Hawke? Getaway (wide release) provides the answer.

The thin, vaguely timorous actor plays – if you can believe it – a former race car driver whose wife is kidnapped in order to force him to tool around Sofia, Bulgaria, in a stolen muscle car pursued by an army of police. It’s all part of a plot by a master criminal (Jon Voight) to steal lots of money. And, to make matters worse, Hawke’s character, Brent Magna, is saddled with a companion, a supremely annoying teen played by Selena Gomez, whose shrill delivery of her lines is the vocal equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard.

If you like to see automobiles crash, burn and blow up, Getaway is for you. Otherwise, stay away.

“Short Term 12”

Brie Larson as Grace in "Short Term" –Photo courtesy of Salon
Brie Larson as Grace in “Short Term”
–Photo courtesy of Salon

 

A refreshing antidote to these pictures is provided by Short Term 12 (Angelika), a low-budget drama about at-risk teens in a California group home and the young counselors who, having experienced similar problems themselves, try to help them.

This might sound like a feature-length version of one of those old television after school specials, and there are moments when the treacle gets a bit thick on the ground.

For the most part, however, the naturalness and honesty of the piece overcome the flaws and make for a moving, intelligent little film.

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