Is this Vin Diesel/Judi Dench action-movie pairing the result of some weird Hollywood clerical error? Somewhere, are Sir Richard Attenborough and Jaime Pressly staring awkwardly at each other on a Merchant Ivory set? No, Diesel went after Dench for ''Riddick,'' the sequel to 2000's ''Pitch Black,'' because she's always been his dream Dame. ''When I was promoting 'Black,' people would ask, 'Who do you want to work with?''' says the actor, who also produced. ''They'd expect me to say some superstar action director or some beautiful up-and-coming [actress]. And I'd say Judi Dench.''
In this episode, Riddick, the most wanted renegade with a heart of gold (and eyes of freakish silver), has been captured by the malevolent Lord Marshal (''Paycheck'''s Colm Feore), who travels on a planet-size ship attempting to convert the entire universe into Necromongers, obedient warriors who don't feel pain. (Needless to say, Riddick is not down with this plan.) Dench plays Aeron, an ethereal ''air elemental'' who has all the properties of oxygen and whose allegiances are unclear. If all of this outer space jargon makes your sci-fi heart skip a beat, then writer-director David Twohy (who also cowrote and directed ''Pitch Black'') has done his job. ''I don't know where he's been in his head for the last few years,'' says Thandie Newton, who plays Dame Vaako, a conniving deputy to Lord Marshal. ''But [this movie] redefines 'nerd' as a much more desirable term. This is like supernerd heaven.''
In this geek nirvana, Newton needed more than a pocket protector, she needed a body protector. Though she was the rare cast member who didn't wield a weapon, her character did sneak in some brutal fisticuffs with her on-screen husband (''The Lord of the Rings''' Karl Urban). ''I smashed myself up, but I always do this,'' she says. ''I have scars all down my arms that I call my 'Riddick' scars. I have my 'Beloved' scars on my knees, and my 'Truth About Charlie' scars.'' We'd make a joke about O-scars here, but come on, it's ''Riddick.''
THE GOOD NEWS It's ''Pitch Black'' with the same creative team and a bigger budget.
THE BAD NEWS How many people were really clamoring for more Riddick?