Director : Nimrod Antal
Screenplay : Alex Litvak & Michael Finch (based on characters created by Jim Thomas & John Thomas)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Adrien Brody (Royce), Topher Grace (Edwin), Alice Braga (Isabelle), Walton Goggins (Stans), Oleg Taktarov (Nikolai), Laurence Fishburne (Noland), Danny Trejo (Cuchillo), Louis Ozawa Changchien (Hanzo), Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (Mombasa), Carey Jones (Tracker Predator / Falconer Predator), Brian Steele (Berzerker Predator), Derek Mears (Classic Predator)
If we count the Alien Vs. movies, Predators is actually the fifth sequel to John McTiernan’s Reagan-era red-meat-action/sci-fi hybrid, and to say that it is the best of those sequels is little more than faint praise. The film’s concept, which was cooked up by executive producer Robert Rodriguez more than a decade ago, is actually pretty clever and holds a great deal of promise: Rather than one of the hulking, dreadlocked alien Predators hunting people on Earth, the story begins with eight strangers being dropped onto an unknown planet that they only gradually realize is a huge game preserve and that they are the game. The story, in effect, gives the Predators home field advantage (not that they really need it). The plural title would seem to suggest a lot of Predators, as would a misleading shot from the trailer that shows one character being literally covered in laser sights, but turns out to be far different in the movie itself. However, there are really only three hunters (plus a pack of ravenous tusked dog-creatures), who stalk their prey with all the ruthless intensity you would expect.
Similar to the original, the prey in Predators are human characters who, in any other movie, would be the aggressors (in fact, the movie’s title could refer to the humans as readily as the aliens hunting them). The story begins with them literally in mid-freefall after having been thrown out of an aircraft, which makes for a startling opening and also establishes an immediate sense of danger, unease, and mystery. Adrien Brody, who appears to be on a sci-fi bender with this and his recent role in Splice, plays the requisite alpha male, a special-ops vet named Royce who would, of course, much rather work on his own. However, as there is safety in numbers, he reluctantly agrees to team up with the others who have been inexplicably jettisoned into the alien jungle. These include a Chechnian soldier (Oleg Taktarov), a drug cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo), a serial killer (Walton Goggins), a Sierra Leone death squad member (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a yakuza hitman (Louis Ozawa Changchien), an American army soldier (Alice Braga), and a sarcastic doctor (Topher Grace).
Once everyone is in place and the setting is established, first-time screenwriters Alex Litvak and Michael Finch follow the narrative’s inherent logic, which decrees that the Predators kill off the major characters one by one, although not always in the order you might expect, until the group is whittled down to a few hearty souls who must set up a fiery last stand against them. It takes a while for the characters to fully realize what they’re in for, although there are clues along the way, including a corpse of a special ops soldier surrounded by jungle-crafted booby traps that the Predators managed to avoid, and Laurence Fishburne as a crazed survivor of a previous hunting expedition. Not surprisingly, the characters don’t have a whole lot of character to them; they are defined primarily by their different backgrounds and countries of origin, and because no one knew anyone else prior to arrival, the movie doesn’t have the underlying boil of macho posturing that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers brought to the original (bear in mind that that movie’s most indelible image did not involve the Predator, but rather a close-up of the two men’s bulging biceps as they shook hands, an event that had less to do with greeting and more to do with one-upmanship).
In what is essentially the Schwarzenegger role, Brody was an interesting casting choice, as he brings a fierce intelligence and drive to go along with a beefed-up body and hardened countenance. He is quite convincing as a soldier of fortune whose single-minded goal of survival at all costs often puts him at odds with the others and doesn’t always make him immediately likable. The other characters emerge as little more than fodder for the Predators’ various weapons of death (which involve both destructive lasers and old-fashioned blades), with the exception of Topher Grace’s doctor, who is so seriously out of place among all these hardened killers that it doesn’t take an expert in narrative economy to realize that there’s more to him than meets the eye. Director Nimrod Antal, who first made international waves with the Hungarian film Kontroll (2003) before directing the superior horror-thriller Vacancy (2007), brings a dash of much-needed style to the proceedings without cutting too deep into the story’s back-to-basics primitivism (note, particularly, the artistry with which he uses high-angle shots to spice up the yakuza’s battle with a Predator). And, if that is the extent of your expectations, Predators won’t disappoint.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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