At the movies

Vin Diesel keeps his motors running with ‘Riddick’

 
 
Diesel
Diesel
Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Thump. Thump. That’s the sound the golf cart makes each time it strikes the uneven pavement as it transports Vin Diesel across the Universal Studios backlot. He’s traveling from his bungalow office to a screening room where Riddick crew members have gathered to watch the third installment of the sci-fi series starring the actor-producer as an extraterrestrial ex-con.

“It’s such a victory that this movie is going to be in theaters,” Diesel says in his signature growly tone.

Indeed, when it comes to Riddick, Diesel, 46, is all too familiar with hitting bumps in the road. It took the Fast & Furious star almost a decade (and millions of dollars in fundraising) to bring his see-in-the-dark anti-hero back to the big screen. Universal had jettisoned a possible third edition after 2004’s Chronicles of Riddick didn’t soar at the box office.

Despite the fact Chronicles and its 2000 predecessor Pitch Black, as well as a pair of video games, amassed a cult following, it seemed like Riddick would be forever lost in space.

However, Diesel remained undeterred. He worked with series writer-director David Twohy to resuscitate Riddick, obtaining the film rights after Universal passed.

“I started in the independent [film] world, but this was a new level of challenge for me,” said Diesel.

He treated the sequel like an indie project, not unlike the 1990s self-funded movies Multi-Facial and Strays, which transformed the burly New Yorker from bouncer to actor-producer. Between filming Fast & Furious movies, he went to Germany with Twohy to woo investors to convince the studio to come back on board.

“This character struck a chord,” said Diesel, who points to his 46 million Facebook fans as the reason for taking several risks —including almost leveraging his own house when bills couldn’t be paid — to recover Riddick. “He’s tangible for them. I think the idea of a character that has been misread, overlooked and given up on is very fascinating to people.”

The original Pitch Black, which introduced the ruthless Richard B. Riddick amid an eclectic group of spaceship crash survivors, cost $23 million and went on to earn $53 million worldwide. The follow-up heavily expanded on the first film’s spacey mythology and budget. It cost $105 million but wasn’t ultimately a blockbuster, bringing in a so-so $115 million worldwide.

Riddick, which opens Friday and leanly cost between $35 and $40 million, blends elements from both chapters, keeping the ornate look of Chronicles but dispatching with its PG-13 interstellar politics in favor of the R-rated terror of Pitch Black. The film strands the Furyan bad boy on a desolate planet where he’s hunted by dueling bands of mercenaries.

With the revivals of Fast & Furious and Riddick now under his belt, Diesel feels reinvigorated about his other passion project: a trilogy playing Carthaginian commander Hannibal Barca, the audacious general who marched across the Alps to challenge the Roman Empire. It’s another bumpy venture Diesel has been working on for the better part of a decade.

First, Diesel is revving up for the seventh F&F, shooting this month in Atlanta and Los Angeles, and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, in which he’ll portray the tree-like alien Groot. For the former street performer, it’ll mark his first foray into motion-capture acting — and playing a character known for delivering just one line: “I am Groot.”

“The idea of bringing that physicality to a CGI character always tantalized me,” he said. “To strip away everything is insane. In this case, the voice plays heavily into it, too. I don’t know what kind of dialogue will be in it, but even if it stayed true to character, there’s so much one can do with ‘I am Groot.’ It’s the kind of challenge very few actors ever get.”

DERRIK J. LANG

AP Entertainment Writer

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