The Great Beauty / Riddick

I reviewed Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty over at Critic’s Notebook, but the film is a deep lake; another review twice as long still wouldn’t get me to the bottom of it.

Then there’s Riddick, a film whose hidden shallows are the best thing going for it. The last Riddick film was a vast cathedral built on top of a very small pea; this new one is a bit wobbly, but at least knows that the best scenario for Mr. Riddick is simply to have him growl at bounty hunters for a couple of hours, in lines delivered by Mr. Diesel as if the actor had just been handed them by a waiter. It knows this because David Twohy is a smart film maker.

Since smartness never counts for anything any more, an angry mob has advanced on Twohy and charged him with some kind of unreconstructed chauvinism. Not for the first time, an angry mob is on shaky ground. Early in the film Riddick’s immense ennui summons up a memory of a few full-frontal concubines who look like they’re going to expire from boredom, but that signpost has been ignored in order to gang up on Riddick’s treatment of Dahl, the maybe-lesbian sniper. Dahl is obliged to provide an oblique flash; is later on the receiving end of some boorish badinage from Riddick in which the words “balls deep” appear; and then gets her ass grabbed at the fade-out after she’s saved his hide. The presence of these sights, it is said, makes Riddick a sexist work which must be buried at sea.

It strikes me that this is not how enlightenment is supposed to be. Forcing any image or written sentence in your path to bear the entire weight of all subjective connections across all of history, a cosmic risk assessment lest it go off in the minds of some gullible souls like a hand grenade and make a mess, is more than just a bad idea. It’s also the mark of a society in a panic, one that at some point will ponder gathering those images and sentences into large piles and applying a match.

All the more reason for people who write stuff down about things they see to be educators first rather than censors. Context is everything: Dahl is not for a second shown to be anything other than confident, competent, self-sufficient and pretty bawdy herself, someone who initiates the tone with Riddick specifically to then bat him away like a fly. She’s simply better at this than he is. Notwithstanding the pleasures to be had in watching Katee Sackhoff rock up and punch people in the face, it’s looking down the wrong end of the telescope to interpret Dahl as either in need of saving or not providing the corrective that any actual interrogation of the topic requires. Ball-busting has made female characters iconic, so it’s worth paying attention to the cases when it mysteriously makes them invisible instead.

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