One of my fondest and most vivid movie-viewing memories involves staying home sick from school when I was a wee lad. To give me something to do between rushing to the bathroom and dropping in and out of consciousness, my Mom brought home two movies from the local, decrepit VHS rental store. On the side of one of these cumbersome tapes, etched in a black felt-tipped marker, was the word “Predator.” Despite globs of snot dripping from my nose and violent intestinal pains, I somehow managed to make it through the bad jokes, awkward one-liners, and excessive violence of this late-80’s sci-fi/action classic.
Granted, my young age and over-the-counter-drug-hazed mental instability may have impaired my perception of the film, but I was completely enthralled with the slow-burn of the mostly-arbitrary beginning (which barely sketched out the assorted characters and doled out minimal, if not important, information pertaining to the methods of the Predator), and was quickly engrossed in an exciting adventure. Never once did I bolt for the bathroom during the film’s running time (that happened later, when I watched the other rented film…a crapfest starring Martin Sheen about voodoo named The Believers).
As a prepubescent male, I was taken with all the testosterone on display. Distilled to the action genre essentials, Predator was extremely simplistic: a group of badasses, stuck in a jungle, are forced to deal with an unseen, alien enemy. There was a primal attraction to this conceit; one that paid service to the basest male instincts. Basically, Predator had lots of explosions, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even more explosions. What more could any male ask for? Well…maybe sex.
Over the years several Predator films have made their way into theaters and onto home video (I enjoyed Predator 2, hated AVP, and sort of hated AVP: Requiem); all to diminishing returns. The once-iconic character has been used and abused by unimaginative filmmakers, never living up to the potential created during the initial film. And while my interest has waned with each successive film, once the trailers for Predators assaulted my eyes, I was immediately excited again. It looked like the Predator film that I knew and loved. Already having given up on the franchise, I was more than a little surprised that I found myself wanting to see a Predator film again. Did the movie live up to my expectations? Or did it fall in line with the other awful sequels?
More or less a retread of the first film, Predators slightly tweaks the familiar formula with a bunch of half-cooked ideas that rarely go anywhere. Instead of a team of commandos on a mission to rescue a “diplomat” taken hostage in a Guatemalan jungle, Predators showcases a disparate group of people (eight total, comprised of various killers…and a doctor) who have crash-landed into an alien jungle (which, strangely enough, looks exactly like a Guatemalan jungle). And, much like the original film, these characters find themselves hunted by an unseen enemy and must figure out a way to defeat their unique threat. That’s the whole story. Only there are very few instances of ingenuity employed by the captors on the planet, aside from running away and hiding. Or running away and shooting. Or standing around while somebody else shoots. Since most of the movie is a rip-off of the original, why didn’t the filmmaker’s at least try to appropriate the best parts (like the way the commandos used their skills to capture the Predator)? And, while I’m on the subject, wouldn’t the Predators know these people were easy targets to begin with? I mean, they already captured them and transported them to another planet. How good can they be?
Overall, the characters are dull and flat and, much like a slasher film, are only there to get grounded into chuck at some point. Until then, we thrillingly watch them grunt, sweat, and try to figure out what the hell is going on…at least until Adrien Brody inexplicable explains everything to everyone. And when Adrien Brody isn’t explaining everything, the Latino chick (Alice Braga) is. And when the Latino chick isn’t explaining everything, Laurence Fishburne is. This pretty much robs the film of any sense of suspense. And taking the place of suspense are wasted opportunities and misguided character beats. In fact, there is a character “twist” towards the end of the film that is so out of left field my jaw literally dropped. My jaw literally dropped! And I rolled my eyes. I rolled my eyes! In a darkened theater!
Streamlined to the bare essentials, Predators moves at a fast clip and rarely stops to take a breath. And during the few moments when it does stop, the film unleashes a torrent of clunky exposition. Adrien Brody comes off like Pee Wee Herman caught in the throes of roid rage…if Pee Wee Herman had his voice modulated to sound like Christian Bale from the Batman films. It’s not an awful performance, it is just difficult to get used to seeing Brody in such a heavy, testosterone-fueled role, and the dialogue he has to spit out veers between the ridiculous to the unintentionally funny. While the Predator franchise is not known for its amazing characters, this film somehow manages to draw them in even broader strokes. There’s a Russian dude, a Mexican dude, a Japanese dude…and the list goes on. Sadly, the characters never evolve beyond their ethnicity. As such, they just become fodder for the Predators and, frankly, I just found myself apathetic about their plight.
Highly derivative of the first Predator film; Predators is essentially a pastiche of all the previous film’s boring parts (although there is a nice homage regarding the lone, shirtless warrior who takes on a Predator mano y mano…which was hinted at in the original). Lazy and predictable, Predators ultimately salvages itself from the depths of mediocrity by displaying sprinkles of creativity, no matter how brief and poorly executed they are (like the CGI Predator-hunting “dogs,” or the idea behind other alien life forms being dropped onto the planet). It also features a hammy, wildly overacting Laurence Fishburne as a batshit crazy survivor who, much like Brody’s character, tells us all kinds of information about the Predators. His introduction and exit were fun, despite the lines of exposition he was forced to deliver.
Anyway, despite the feeling of déjà vu that crept through my brain as I watched this film, there were enough entertaining scenes and fan service moments to recommend the movie to Predator diehards. Unlike some of the other entries in the franchise, this one actually feels like a Predator film, and it was cool seeing these iconic characters kick ass once again. While I would have liked to see another locale (something more alien…instead of the same shrubbery and foliage from the first film), the movie does look good and was never boring. It is a straight-up B-movie that is more concerned with blowing shit up, killing clueless characters, and showing off cool monster designs than it is with anything else. And, while this is not necessarily a bad thing, I did feel that these iconic characters deserved something more fleshed out and creative. If you are home sick one day in the future, then Predators would make a good time killer, but as a theatrical experience, it is barely matinee-worthy.
And its infinitely better than those lame AVP films, if that means anything.
By the way, in the trailer, there is a moment where Adrien Brody has several red Predator reticules flash all over his body. This scene is not in the movie. What the fuck?!