There are so many neat ideas and cool moments in “Pitch Black” that you just can’t help but get frustrated when director David Twohy keeps stepping on his tie. Indeed, it seems there’s no opportunity for a jump-cut or a slow-mo insert that Twohy can’t pass up, which, while they look cool in music videos or hip commercials, are awfully distracting when indiscriminately parachuted into a serious narrative that practically depends on momentum for its efficacy. Additionally, there’s something off about the movie’s narrative structure; things seem to have quickly and randomly yet have a profound impact on the plot so you need to be on your toes at all times, even as the movie’s rapid cuts insist on taking you out of the experience. But the major problem is that there aren’t many characters to root for. Vin Diesel’s Riddick is the obvious breakout star and he does a terrific job as a stealthy, is-he-or-isn’t-he-trustworthy antihero (and boy can he wear the hell out of a pair of khaki pants) but everyone else is fairly grating, beginning with ostensible lead (and Sigourney Weaver stand-in) Radha Mitchell. I’ve liked Mitchell in a lot of stuff before but she’s just not right here: It reminds me of something I heard Weaver say on one of the “Alien” DVD commentaries, about how she had to learn that, in order to play a tough character, she had to accept that the character’s arc will tell the tale and that not every line delivery needs to be tough-as-nails in order to establish the character’s strength. That’s precisely the problem with Mitchell here (although one could argue that it’s Twohy’s responsibility for directing her that way) – every line is intended to sound badass but it’s impossible to root for a character like that when it’s not backed up with meaningful action or any conviction. All in all, I’d say this is good-but-not-great: It’s got its moments and many aspects of its storyline are really interesting, but the execution is a bit on the overdone side. If Twohy had known to pull back a bit, the ‘less is more’ approach would have softened his movie’s landing, but as it is, it’s one of those ‘almost’ movies.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)