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Drive-in trip yields satisfying result with ‘Riddick,’ ‘Frankenstein’s Army’

Date: 9/12/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

In the week’s film review column, we take a late summer trip to the drive-in, in spirit at least.

In theaters: Riddick

Classic drive-in movies have a number of distinct characteristics not the least is the repetition of an established and sure-fire formula and this is what we have in the third entry in the “Riddick” series.

The character of criminal, escape artist and anti-hero Riddick (Vin Diesel) was introduced in the film “Pitch Black,” a tightly made science fiction thriller about a group of people trapped on a desert planet about to go into a solar eclipse, during which time bloodthirsty beasts will hunt them. Their only hope to survive is Riddick, who, while in prison, had his eyes altered to see in the dark.

“Pitch Black” was extremely well written and directed. The cast was strong, the premise was original and Diesel was suited for this role.

The second Riddick film, “The Chronicles of Riddick,” was a text book example of how not to attempt a sequel. A bloated and poorly written science fiction epic, it made little sense and didn’t please many fans.

The third time might be the charm, though and Diesel and writer and director David Twohy wisely did what so many have done before: go back to what works. Within the first 10 minutes, Twohy has disposed of the previous plotline and its narrative entanglements and returned Riddick to a desert planet with nasty creatures.

Looking for a way off the rock, he discovers a bounty hunter facility and essentially lets any nearby mercenary know he’s there. Within minutes, there’s a team of bounty hunters setting up shop and another team closely follows them.

The two teams clash, naturally, which is Riddick’s plan and the film culminates in a way that anyone who has seen “Pitch Black” can anticipate.

The film is derivative, but well made and will probably be more impressive to audiences who’ve not seen the first film. In true drive-in movie tradition, there are moments of gore and a simply gratuitous bit of nudity. This film earns its R rating and is definitely not for kids.

Diesel basically phones in his performance. It’s a limited character and Diesel has allowed himself to become a limited actor.

All that being said, “Riddick” is a well made but strictly formulaic science fiction action film.

On Blu-ray: Frankenstein’s Army

When I was in high school and immersing myself in as much information about movies as possible, I scanned the newspaper ads of the area drive-ins – The Airline, The Parkway, E.M. Loew’s Riverdale, to name a few – pondering all the films I could never see.

Attending a dusk to dawn show was not in the cards for me. I had to catch up with these films at a much later date.

I would frequently see a title and an image in an ad and wonder, “What the heck is that film all about?”

That’s the reaction I had when I saw “Frankenstein’s Army.”

In true drive-in movie fashion, this film has a very mixed pedigree. It has an American producer, a Dutch director, and British cast and was shot outside of Prague in the Czech Republic.

There are no stars, although some sharp-eyed viewers might recognize versatile character actor Karel Roden as the not-so-good doctor.

The plot is simple but yields some big surprises. A recon unit of the Russian army is lured to a remote German village in the waning days of the WWII. The graves in the churchyard are excavated and open.

There isn’t a soul around, except for one man who promises to take them to the man who can answer their questions.

He leads the unit through a series of underground hallways and straight into some of the most original cyborg monsters I’ve seen in a long time – hideous combinations of human and mechanical parts.

Things don’t go well after that. It turns out the great-great grandson of the first Dr. Frankenstein is continuing his experiences under the auspices of the Nazis.

Fairly audacious and genuinely eye opening, this film certainly delivers the shocks. Again, this is not for the kids.

The drive-in sensibilities seem to be alive and well, even if the Red Box has replaced the drive-in.