Tripping over some of the more preposterous dialogue in Star Wars, Harrison Ford famously complained to George Lucas, "You can type this shit, George, but you sure can't say it." He should spare a thought for Judi Dench. She plays Aeron, an "envoy from the Elemental race" in The Chronicles of Riddick (15), so it's her job to tell us that the Necromongers from the Underverse will conquer the planet Helion Prime unless a Furion warrior returns from Crematoria.
What's so perplexing about this nonsense is that Riddick, Vin Diesel's steroidal anti-hero, first appeared four years ago in Pitch Black, a crafty little sci-fi thriller that was low both on budget and pretension. For reasons known only to David Twohy, the writer-director, he's followed it up with a grandiose space opera that would work as a bludgeoning parody of Star Wars and Star Trek if it weren't so joyless and grey. Everything about it is as pumped up as Diesel's torso. The villain, who wears an overgrown millipede for a hat, seems to have modelled his spaceship on a baroque cathedral. Riddick himself has been promoted from a resourceful outlaw to an indestructible superhero. And the dialogue is such bombastic mumbo-jumbo that not even Dame Judi can salvage it. (Her role is irrelevant, but Twohy must have decided that if Star Wars had a titled, white-haired Brit, then his film would have one, too.) The ironic flaw is that beneath all the pomp and ceremony the actual story is piffling. In a two-hour movie, all that happens is that Riddick gets captured, escapes, gets captured again, escapes again, and then settles the fate of the galaxy with one quick bout of WWE wrestling. Chronically ridiculous.
Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller are two of the funniest men in American movies, but you wouldn't know it from their recent outings. That's why Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (12A) is so welcome. Vaughn plays the owner of Average Joe's, less a gym than a drop-in centre for misfits, losers and a man who thinks he's a pirate. Across the street is Globo Gym, a glitzy fitness factory run by the manically vain Stiller. He's going to buy out Average Joe's unless Vaughn can raise $50,000, which just happens to be the prize money awarded at the International Dodgeball Tournament in Las Vegas.
To call Dodgeball laugh-a-minute would be to do it a disservice: it has as many laughs-per-minute as any comedy there is, up to and including The Simpsons. Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, it functions as a send-up of the sports-movie genre and a satire on body fascism. But its main concern is to be shamelessly silly, without, crucially, ever quite losing all contact with reality. The characters are just human enough for us to care about them, but not so human that we can't chuckle when they get hit in the face by a well-aimed monkey wrench.
If you want to see three new Hollywood comedies this week, see Dodgeball three times and ignore the other two. In Soul Plane (18), a boy from the 'hood sets up a ghetto-fabulous airline with hip-hop attitude. Never mind all the tired stereotypes, any film that's meant to be an outrageous gagfest set on an aeroplane has to be funny enough to fly alongside Airplane, and Soul Plane isn't. Garry Marshall's new film, Raising Helen (PG), stars Kate Hudson as a Manhattan modelling agent whose sister and brother-in-law die in a car crash, leaving her to look after their three children. That should be a cue for joy and sadness, but the film is too insubstantial even to qualify as schmaltzy.
Fear and Trembling (nc) is adapted from Amélie Nothomb's autobiographical novel about a young Belgian woman working as the only Westerner in a Tokyo corporation. It's a quizzical glance at Japanese business etiquette, and it should bring back piquant memories to anyone who's ever been the new girl (or boy) in any office anywhere. The problem is that as the heroine's menial tasks become more and more repetitious, the film becomes more and more repetitious, too. But Sylvie Testud enlivens things with a playful, pixie-like performance, even though almost all her lines are in Japanese.
Phone (15) is a Korean revenge-from-beyond-the-grave chiller that centres on a haunted mobile phone. For an hour it seems less like a coherent film than a compilation of unrelated jolts taken from every other Asian horror movie that's come out lately. It's only towards the end, when it homes in on the main characters' story, that we get some proper scares. Still, Eun Seo-woo is one of cinema's all-time great demonic children.
Donnie Darko: Director's Cut (15) slots 20 minutes of unseen material into Richard Kelly's exceptional debut about a suburban teenager (Jake Gyllenhaal) who might just be able to travel through time and save the universe.Reuse content