Thursday, January 6, 2011


When I learned that Robert Rodriguez was making a new Predator movie, I was pretty excited.  Rodriguez is a guy that knows how to make an amusing action movie that doesn't take itself too seriously (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City, etc.), and I think that is exactly what this franchise needs.  Sure, the original Predator was awesome, but let's not look at it with rose-colored glasses; the movie is essentially a live-action G.I. Joe sci-fi flick, drenched in steroids.  Predator 2 wasn't great, and neither were the Alien vs. Predator movies.  Sure, why not make another Predator?  The past twenty years has only dropped expectations for the series, so there's almost no risk and I trust Rodriguez.  What's that?  Rodriguez is only producing this movie, handing over the director's chair to Nimrod Antal?  Oh.  I don't know how I feel about that.

Okay, imagine that you wake up and you are falling.  Not off your bed, but out of an airplane.  What do you do?  Soil yourself?  Well, that's a given.  Don't worry, your parachute will open without your help.  If your next move is to prepare to shoot anything you see, welcome to Predators.  That's pretty much how the film starts, with several people landing confused in a jungle, armed to the teeth.  Royce (Adrien Brody) is a mercenary, Isabelle (Alice Braga) is a sniper, Cuchillo (Danny Trejo) is a Mexican drug cartel enforcer, Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov) is a Russian soldier, Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien) is Yakuza, and Mombasa (Mahershalhashbaz Ali) is an African death dealer.  Heavy hitters, each and every one of them.  There is also Stans (Walton Goggins), a death row inmate with a fondness for cocaine and rape.  And there's Edwin (Topher Grace), a doctor.  If you have "one of these things is not like the other" in your head, you're not alone.  What are the chances that Edwin has a secret?

Opting for strength in numbers in an unfamiliar jungle, an uneasy truce is formed between these hardened killers (and Edwin) and they head to high ground, trying to learn their location.  The initial signs are bad; from personal experience, they acknowledge that they are not in Asia or Africa, which basically leaves the Amazon as the sole likely possibility.  But the sun doesn't seem to be moving and the wind is coming from all directions, neither of which makes any sense.  Oh, but wait...they get to high ground, see a bunch of suns and moons and realize that they are probably not in the Amazon, or even Earth.  That's when the hunt begins.  First, we get some Predadogs (Predator + dogs) chasing the group.
YOU let it lick your face.
These ugly, horned, lion-sized things take a beating and most of the group's ammunition; after the group has killed a few, the Predadogs are called back with the sound of a horn.  Royce realizes that the group is being hunted and decides to hunt the hunters; they follow the Predadog tracks back to the Predator base camp, where they find hundreds of hunting trophies, including many human skulls.  They also find a Predator tied up to a post, presumably for punishment of some kind; this is their first look at the enemy.  Here's a quick rundown on Predators for the uninitiated.  They have:
  • dreadlocks, which seems an odd choice for an entire species
  • a mouth that looks suspiciously like a female body part, but with pincers
  • laser-targeted energy cannons
  • cool masks that are often customized with bones and other morbid stuff
  • large, retractable knives located in their body armor
  • cloaking technology, for near-invisibility
  • a fondness for hunting dangerous animals
A little later, they learn even more about the Predators when they encounter Noland (Laurence Fishburne), a man who has survived on Planet Predator alone for quite some time.  After that, it's basically a hunt or be hunted scenario, as the group tries to kill their way to freedom and maybe a way off the planet.

This movie is an interesting blend of stupid and cool.  On the one hand, "Killers From Around the Globe" is a pretty lame theme for the characters, but the cast is varied in appearance and acting skills, so it actually works decently well.  And I was impressed by the order in which the characters died; it was not the typical "least famous dies first" routine.  The title alludes to many things, including the fairly obvious (there is more than one Predator in this movie) and an homage (Predators is what Aliens was to Alien --- or it wants to be, anyway).  The title also refers to the humans, because they are all killers; that last one made me roll my eyes when I heard it mentioned in the movie, but at least its not too pretentious.  We get to see a few different types of Predators in this film, which is an interesting and untapped concept.  We also get Predadogs, which are significantly less cool. 

The acting is about what you would expect from a cast chosen (at least partially) by ethnicity.  Most of the actors have bit parts with little dialogue and no character development.  That's fine.  Movies like this need cannon fodder.  That left the bulk of the acting to Adrien Brody, who did a pretty good job bulking up for the role.  He was a pretty good solider, even if his character was clearly designed to have the illusion of depth --- "Ooh, he quoted Hemmingway!  There's more to this character than we thought!"  Alice Braga was fine as the mandatory conscience of the group, but it was a thankless role and was a little annoying.  Topher Grace's character was obviously designed to have a not-too-subtle secret, but he was still pretty entertaining, especially in the lulls between action scenes.  SPOILER: Okay, so Topher is a serial killer.  Couldn't they have thrown in a red herring, like he's a mercy-killing battlefield doctor, or an abortionist, or something?  Any explanation for his presence on Planet Predator would have been appreciated.  Laurence Fishburne and Walton Goggins also add some spice as clearly unstable people.

Overall, this isn't a bad time.  Nimrod Antal does a solid job directing, even if the plot is occasionally ludicrous and predictable.  The Predators get fleshed out a little more as characters and we see some more of their technology, which is not as interesting as it sounds.  This is definitely the best-acted film in the series (aside from Jesse Ventura in the original), too.  It doesn't quite succeed in matching the awesomeness of the original.  The filmmakers made a big deal about the "s" in the title, and frequently pointed out how James Cameron's Aliens was a very different, but equally awesome, movie than Ridley Scott's Alien.  These guys missed the point of that comparison, though; Alien is a suspense/horror movie, while Aliens is a flat-out action movie.  They are different genres, not just different movies.  Predator is possibly the most testosterone-infused movie ever made, and Predators is a slightly smarter, less muscular version of that.  It's not bad.  It's just playing the same game as the superior original, which makes it somewhat predictable.  That said, I think the door is left open to a truly awesome sequel, so I suppose this film served its purpose of reinvigorating this franchise.

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