See It Instead: Riddick Edition
Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had. Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap. Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the shitty ninja movies and serial killer biopics. Well, look no further. See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching.
In theaters now is Riddick, that latest attempt by Vin Diesel to star in a hit movie that is neither fast nor furious. Perhaps you’ve run out of second chances to give Diesel and his Riddick character, despite my encouraging review. Perhaps you prefer movies with more polish and pedigree. Perhaps you’re short on spending cash and want all the goodness a 2-for-Tuesday rental night can get you. I won’t judge you.
Let’s try something new for the See It Instead series: I tell you how each movie is related to the theatrical release.
The Safe Pick: Aliens (1986)
If you like men with big guns running from (and being dismembered by) terrifying critters.
The spiritual progenitor of the Pitch Black/Riddick universe, it’s not hard to see how heavily influenced by this movie the series has been. Few movies have so successfully nailed the creeping terror of being surrounded an stalked by relentless killers that are so completely…well, alien. Aliens was a pretty stark departure from the low body count, high tension original, Alien, and introduced the world to the space marines, bad ass dudes (and ladies) who consider themselves the best killers in the universe… and are woefully wrong. From the campy dialogue (game over, man!) to the slick Giger influenced imagery, to the career defining amount of whup-ass on display from Sigourney Weaver, this movie had it all. Unfortunately it pissed it all away rather rapidly. At least Pitch Black was there to pick up the ball and run with it, until likewise stumbling over sequels.
The lighthearted pick: Cool Hand Luke (1967)
If you want a likable convict anti-hero who shuns authority.
Arguably Paul Newman’s most iconic role (if you discount his mug on your salad dressing at McDonald’s…) Cool Hand Luke tells the story of a man with serious authority issues. Sentenced to hard labor in a chain gang for knocking over parking meters just for the hell of it, Luke overcomes the suspicions of the other inmates, and confounds the wardens and chain bosses at every turn, taking some seriously hard lumps along the way. Achieving near god-like status among the men, the perennial outcast throws it all away at a chance for escape, despite being nearly finished with his sentence. Just to show he can. Things end poorly for Luke, unlike Riddick, but Newman gives a terrific turn as the world weary, nonconformist anti-hero. While it could have easily devolved into a completely decent polemic against society’s brutality (similar to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) it instead focuses squarely on Luke, who refuses to be defined. A true classic.
The unconventional pick: Surviving the Game (1994)
If you want the visceral feel of hunter and prey. And Ice-T.
Not a classic, or even properly a cult classic, it is easy to overlook the awful fun of 1994’s Surviving the Game. A break out role for Ice-T, it has some of the most head-scratching casting since Ben Kingsley started doing any old script that happened his way (looking at you, Blood Rayne.) The story concerns 6 men who run a game preserve which they stock with homeless men, in order to hunt. Ice-T is recruited by Charles S. Dutton (who seriously cannot get a break, movie-wise, for how good an actor he really is) and Rutger Hauer (about par for the course for the erratically talented Hauer who gave us Bladerunner…but also Hobo with a Shotgun…) to act as a hunting guide (read: prey). Gary Busey is believably creepy as a nut job CIA psychiatrist who gives spiritual guidance to the rich assholes who decided to hunt hobos, but only in retrospect of what Gary Busey has become today. The group is rounded out by F. Murray Abraham (who must share agents with Ben Kingsley) and one of the dudes from City Slickers (no, not Jack Palance.) Ice-T overcomes the hunters, you would assume by power of profanity alone, and manages to provide some interestingly orchestrated trap sequences. And he has a cute dog, which brings us to:
The Bonus Pick: Top Dog (1995)
If you like hardened killers adopting canine side-kicks.
If you watched Riddick, and thought: “I wish more movies paired remorseless killing machines with puppies” then have I got a treat for you. Not this movie, which bombed at the box office, and is pretty damn terrible. It’s a picture of a dog. You’re welcome. And please seek help, because the silly bonding with the feral murder-mutt via poisoning the shit out of it found in Riddick is some of the hardest to watch moments of the movie. But here’s that dog I promised you.