Monday Morning Critic – Vin Diesel, Riddick And The Sylvester Stallone Franchise Fallacy (Labor Day 2013 Edition)

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This weekend marks Vin Diesel’s return to cinemas after one successful film this year, another Fast & Furious franchise, with another film in the franchise that obviously means much more to him: Riddick. It’s one in which to secure financing he put up his own cash, not pulling a Spike and asking others to pay for it via Kickstarter, and cashing in the chips he’s accrued for the past several hits he’s had. It’s the one thing I can respect Diesel for; he’s been wanting one more run with Riddick and he’s been doing everything he can for one more run as Richard B. Riddick.

Thus he returned a couple of times to a franchise he tried to leave, taking on other projects since his ascension to stardom via the first The Fast & The Furious film, in order to try and build up his profile. There’s a specific reason why the only films he’s been in since 2008 have been of that franchise: he’s discovering that the modern movie star is defined by a number of things they weren’t 10 years ago.

Mainly it’s about the ability to make a profitable franchise to maintain the ability to pick and choose your own projects. I call it the Stallone Franchise Fallacy.

One can’t fault Diesel for trying to become an action star after the first film instead of jumping into the sequels, like others would’ve. It’s why he took a sequel to Pitch Black, a much bigger and louder film than the original, than jump into 2 Fast 2 Furious. Riddick is a better character, and a far more interesting one, than the one dimensional meathead that Dominic Toretto is. But unfortunately an interesting character in a sci-fi universe isn’t as profitable as one in which cars go fast, of course, and the success he’s found in that franchise compared to the relative inability to bring in audiences regularly for anything is interesting.

Career wise it makes him into Sylvester Stallone … someone more identified with their franchise characters and the inability to be successful outside of them.

When we look at Diesel’s career the similarities are unmistakable. Diesel found success on an indie film he wrote and directed, much like Stallone found success with the Rocky script he refused to let anyone else star in. Stallone for years tried to make profitable and good action films, failing nearly every time he wasn’t involved in something that didn’t have him play Rocky Balboa or John Rambo. For all the action films he made in the 80s the ones that are held up as the pinnacle of his career in a non-ironic way involve both of those characters.

He’s identified profoundly with both of them, his career resurgence as of late fueled by a third franchise in The Expendables, but outside of them the same result has almost always happened: bad reviews and not as much in the way of box office receipts. Stallone always had his two franchise characters to turn to when his career stalled, and he needed a boost back up to box office gorilla status, and for every handful of failures like Dredd or Demolition man there was always another franchise sequel he could be talked into.

Diesel’s career is starting to mirror that … except that he hasn’t gone outside his franchise in such a long time that we don’t know if people will want to see him as anything else. No one in the rest of the cast, sans “The Rock,” has been able to successfully carry a film on their own in any meaningful way. Paul Walker has had the same problem, smaller successes (and plenty of failure) surrounded by Fast and Furious fame, but no actor in the franchise has experienced it quite as profoundly as Diesel has.

It’ll be interesting, then, when the box office receipts for Riddick come out. Can Diesel transcend being Dominic Toretto? Or is he doomed to be famous for the role … and that’s it?

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Riddick – Vin Diesel is back as Dick B Riddick, intergalactic badass.

See It – It is R-Rated, I believe, and Diesel is banking a lot on it. Desperate times from an actor can often lead to interesting films.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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