Vin Diesel's Best Movies
In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Riddick star.
It's been nearly a decade since the surly, freaky-eyed Richard Riddick graced our cineplex screens, but even after the relative failure of 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick, fans never lost hope that we'd see his return -- and neither did Riddick's portrayer, Vin Diesel, who fought long and hard to secure funding for a third installment. It took a lot of work (and leveraging his house) to make it happen, but Riddick is finally here. Naturally, we decided that this week would be the perfect time to devote an installment of Total Recall to the Diesel filmography, and recount the critical high points of a journey that's taken him from bit player to $100 million-grossing franchise topliner, multi-hyphenate media mogul, social media star, and future Marvel hero. Get ready for plenty of action, folks -- it's Vin Diesel time!
Four years after the surprise success of Pitch Black helped make him a star, Diesel returned to the role of the frequently goggled escaped convict Richard B. Riddick for The Chronicles of Riddick, a sequel that added $82 million to its predecessor's budget in return for a more expansive storyline, better special effects, and the most inexplicable appearance of Dame Judi Dench's long and distinguished career. Riddick cracked the $100 million mark, ekeing out a small return on Universal's investment, but after Pitch Black, audiences and critics were expecting something more from the second installment of writer/director David Twohy's sci-fi franchise. "It's no Battlefield Earth," wrote Empire's Ian Nathan, "but it's no Dune either. And no, before you ask, it's not destined to be a cult classic."
By the early Naughts, the good old-fashioned action flick had taken a bit of a box-office tumble -- due partly to endlessly recycled high-concept storylines, but also to the glaring lack of a star with enough comedic chops and raw physicality to take the rock 'em, sock 'em mantle from Sly, Arnie, and/or Bruce. Early on, it seemed like Vin Diesel might be that star, which is what led Columbia and Revolution to promote xXx with wishful, hyperbolic comparisons to the Bond franchise -- and promises to reinvent said franchise for a new generation. In the end, positioning Diesel as a hipper, younger 007 only made it that much easier for critics to beat up on the movie. This didn't stop it from rolling over $140 million at the box office, but it kept xXx from a Fresh certification -- and provided writers like Filmcritic's Christopher Null an opportunity to dismiss the would-be Bond killer as "totally idiotic."
"It's the journey, not the destination" may have become a favorite cliche of guidance counselors and New Age enthusiasts, but it's still true -- witness, for example, the raging success of The Fast and the Furious, a film whose utter predictability is redeemed by 102 minutes of sleek visuals and an easy-to-look-at cast that includes Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, and Paul Walker as the undercover cop assigned to infiltrate Diesel's gang of thieving street racers. Not the type of film that needs positive reviews to make money, in other words -- and sure enough, Furious sped to over $200 million in worldwide grosses despite negative-to-lukewarm writeups from critics like Reel Film Reviews' David Nusair, who sniffed that it was "ultimately entertaining enough to warrant a mild recommendation."
7. Pitch Black
Any film that takes place in the 46th century -- and suffers the ignominy of being dumped into theaters in February -- faces a fairly steep uphill battle with critics. Although Pitch Black didn't quite make it over the hump, running out of steam at 57 percent on the Tomatometer, it did far better than most would have guessed -- and it helped make a star out of Vin Diesel, whose turn as the hulking, creepy-eyed escaped convict Richard B. Riddick helped David Twohy's low-budget sci-fi epic transcend its less inspired moments. In the end, Pitch Black became the rare winter feature that ends up spawning a sequel, thanks in part to the begrudging respect of writers like Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum, who praised it as "so jaunty, so limber, and so visually self-assured that art peeks through where crap has traditionally made its home."
The same year he starred in The Pacifier, Diesel packed on 30 pounds -- and grew hair! -- to take the lead in Sidney Lumet's Find Me Guilty, a legal dramedy based on the true story of the longest Mafia trial in American history. As reputed mobster Jackie DiNorscio, who famously represented himself during the trial, Diesel finally won the nearly unanimous critical praise that escaped him in earlier films; sadly, critics found fault with just about every other aspect of Find Me Guilty, including what many saw as an irresponsibly rosy portrait of the real-life mobsters at the heart of Lumet's screenplay. Still, even if it is, in the words of the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt, "guilty of moral stupidity and misguided hero worship," Diesel could take comfort in praise from the likes of the New York Post's Lou Lumenick, who wrote that his "volatile performance finally proves he is much more than an action star."