July 08, 2010

Predators

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Predators

SCIENCE FICTION/ADVENTURE:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-07-09

Running Length:

1:46

MPAA Classification:

R (Violence, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Danny Trejo, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Laurence Fishburne

Director:

Nimrod Antal

Screenplay:

Alex Litvak & Michael Finch

Cinematography:

Gyula Pados

Music:

John Debney

U.S. Distributor:

20th Century Fox

Subtitles:

none


Predators is Robert Rodriguez's attempt to re-invigorate (but not reboot) the Predator franchise, whose devaluation began with an ill-advised sequel, accelerated as a result of the poorly realized Alien vs. Predator, and bottomed out with the lifeless Alien vs. Predator 2. By borrowing cues from James Cameron's Aliens playbook and pretending the two cross-franchise movies don't exist, Rodriguez is able to at least return some dignity to Predators, but the title characters aren't as ferocious or as nasty as they once were, and there's no Arnold Schwarzenegger (the first Predator was as much about the Governator - then at the peak of his popularity - as it was about the creature). That's what happens when two movies water down monsters into pale shadows of their previous incarnations.

Predators is a passable science fiction action/adventure tale that dumps a bunch of characters in the middle of a jungle setting and turns them into alien bait. It's not the most original basis for a movie, but director Nimrod Antal and co-screenwriters Alex Litvak & Michael Finch provide some development for the individuals who stick around for more than a few scenes. Still, to call any of them "three-dimensional" would be a stretch and the most entertaining aspect of Predators is what it usually is in this sort of movie: guessing the order in which the characters will be eliminated and prognosticating which ones (if any) will be alive at the end. Predators reminded me most strongly of Pitch Black with a little Aliens thrown in for good measure.

Casting Adrien Brody (against type) as the badass ex-special ops mercenary is a stroke of genius that may have sounded like the ravings of a lunatic when it was proposed. Brody has shown his acting chops in films like The Pianist and The Brothers Bloom but never before has he been asked to play an action anti-hero. His recent visibility in high-profile monster movies (King Kong, Splice) has given him some credibility in the genre, but putting him front-and-center in the Schwarzenegger role is a leap of faith... and Brody, seemingly against all odds, pulls it off. Buffed up and adopting a growl that would impress Christian Bale, Brody never makes us doubt that his Royce is the kind of guy you'd want back-to-back in a showdown against the meanest dudes in the universe.

Brody is joined by the usual suspects representing as many genders and ethnic types as allowed by the limited number of characters (eight). Alice Braga is Isabelle, the only one of the group with something approaching a conscience. Topher Grace is Edwin, a suburban doctor whose purpose in the midst of so many killers is a mystery. Walter Goggins is Stans, a death row convict whose idea of a relaxing afternoon is to "rape a few bitches." Oleg Taktarov is a Russian, Louis Ozawa Changchien is a yakuza who swings a mean sword; Mahershalalhashbaz Ali in an African; and Danny Trejo is, well, Danny Trejo. Laurence Fishburne shows up in a role that seems to have been written for someone else.

The setup has the eight strangers stranded on a "game preserve planet," where they are being hunted by aliens for sport. Their goal is survival, which is difficult because their weapons are inferior to those of their pursuers and they can't see them. Royce (Brody), the natural leader, decides that avoiding predators isn't the best objective when it comes to long-term survival. They must defeat the enemy then discover a way back to Earth.

Predators suffers from uneven pacing. The first half is a little on the slow side, and the movie is nearly 45 minutes old before the first predator makes an appearance. This would make sense if the goal of the movie was to build to the "reveal," but that's not the case. Instead, the set up simply requires that the characters wander around in the jungle for about a half-hour, occasionally avoiding traps and discovering clues regarding their situation. There is some tension but things begin to drag before the action kicks into high gear. Predators' final third, on the other hand, is anything but slow. Instead, it almost feels rushed, with too much happening during a short period of time, almost as if the filmmakers were concerned that the audience's attention span for this sort of production might not exceed 105 minutes. It should be mentioned, however, that as quickly as certain elements are wrapped up, the final showdown is brutally satisfying.

Although Predators is being firmly placed in the sequel-not-remake category, it follows the broad outline of Predator, even to the point where a variation of Schwarzenegger's end game is employed. Predator fans, fearing another lapse into disappointment, can relax. Although it's arguably not saying much, this is the second-best movie of the series to have "Predator" in the title. It's solidly entertaining for what it is and, while it does little to truly rejuvenate the franchise, at least it lessens the pain caused by two gimmicky cross-over pictures that sucked too much juice out of what was one of the 1980s' most surprisingly tense sci-fi action pictures.

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