Predators

Predators Predators Predators Predators Predators

By Patrick Z. McGavin

Of all the film series to carry out a fetishistic reverence, the “Predator” films constitute a perverse and deeply unwarranted lot.
 
The John McTiernan original and Stephen Hopkins’ follow up had their physical attributes, each nimated by a gun metal pile driver style, but they lacked the soulful, probing and kinetic qualities of the best science fiction inflected action movies of the period, like the “Alien” or “Terminator” works.
 
The new reboot, “Predators,” directed by the talented Hungarian filmmaker Nimrod Antal and produced by the prolific Robert Rodriguez, is a slavish reproduction that appears almost freakishly concerned with elevating the standing and cultural importance of the original. Instead of being fast and agile, the movie is lumbering and self-important.
 
It is a movie of occasionally interesting pieces. A dangerously off-target script sabotages an interesting premise. It has a fantastic start, imbued with some beguiling imagery, but the movie goes seriously off the rails in the second half and turns solemn and pretentious as the audacity of the beginning is flattened by the static and shallow compositions.
 
The script, by Michael Finch and Alex Litvak, working from an earlier story by Rodriguez, is a variation of the squadron or platoon movie that in the hands of a great director, like Howard Hawks in his 1943 “Air Force,” becomes an intricate and highly ritualized exploration of professionalism and competence within a highly particular group dynamic.
 
In “Predators,” that idea is cross pollinated with “The Most Dangerous Game,” and pumped up with a lot of paranoiac rage and manic outbursts. The original unfolded in the interior of the Guatemalan jungles and the sequel operated in a futuristic Los Angeles. The new film inverts the original’s central premise by trapping the humans in the exotic and otherworldly lair of an alien planet and follows them, a little too excruciatingly, as they are quickly adopted into the prey of a more vicious class of predators.
 
The movie certainly grabs your attention with a jarring and visceral title sequence of a man flying in space, his body free falling toward the ground. Saved by a specially designed parachute, the man, Royce (Adrien Brody), a special forces operative turned mercenary, learns he is part of a makeshift group who have each arrived at the strange and eerie location with no memory of how they got there.
 
Out of the eight survivors, Royce quickly asserts his leadership over the collective, composed of a brawny, specially trained, and in one repellant case, a psychopath. Antal is much better suited to the imagery than characterization or subtlety of language.
 
The secondary players are not given much to work with, but at least there is a variation of the individuals assembled, such as Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), a bulky Russian commando or his opposite, the lithe samurai Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Yakuza mobster. Like one pretty much comes to expect, the internal dynamics are governed by an out of control testosterone and male bravado. The obvious exception is the cool and lethal Brazilian sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga).
 
The first third of the film is the strongest as the puzzle ghost story takes root. A capable genre specialist (“Vacancy,” “Armored”), Antal made his name with the more convincing Hungarian feature, “Kontroll,” set in the twisting labyrinth of the Budapest subway that showcased an expressive talent for light, shadow and baroque atmosphere.
 
At the start, Nimrod is very good at building tension and unease through either the sinister and unfamiliar landscape or the jarring and inexplicable, a badly mauled body, a group of containers unleashed in the jungle or a vicious class of unnamed animals that swarm the group.
 
Antal and his talented cinematographer, Gyula Pados, achieve some starting pictorial effects, the most sublime the appearance of the deep horizontal line that confirms Royce’s realization of the group being set loose on an alien planet that offers no apparent chance of escape.
 
The action set pieces and story intrigue of the opening half soon gives way to a series of plot twists and story revelations that slowly and emphatically drain the life out of the movie. The moment Noland (Laurence Fishburne), a Navy SEAL, appears as the unlikely survivor of an earlier mission, Antal slowly and emphatically losses his grip over the material. Fishburne does a Method turn gone berserk (even making a self-reflexive acknowledgement of his own part in “Apocalypse Now”) and the story quickly devolves from the possibility of the fantastic to the ridiculous.
 
In that regard, “Predators” never moves too far from the straightjacket of formula (like, most dismayingly, the racial minorities of a given group are always the first to be sacrificed). Just as bad, when the movie does try to stake out some different ideas, like the notion of divine retribution, the result is pretty much appalling.
 
Even more unsettling, the movie spends a lot of time on the unsavory character named Stans (Walton Goggins), “the FBI’s most wanted man.” Some of his free associative banter, like his squalid rape fantasies, complete with misogynist invective, leaves a particularly noxious aftertaste and marks a stab at off-color humor that is particularly risible.
 
Yet, every time “Predators” threatens to become completely vile, Antal does something interesting or unusual to break up the monotony and the dead weight, like a beautifully filmed sword fight between Hanzo and one of the predators that consciously evokes Kurosawa in the composition and the imaginative byplay of wind and landscape.
 
The inspiration is clearly an isolated instance, and it is immediately cancelled out by something truly appalling and unsavory revealed by the movie’s most enigmatic character. By the second half, the script makes one incoherent stab after another.
 
It speaks to the larger problem of a movie with no fixed or compelling identity of its own to ever try to break out of the usual standards and norms. For any of this to really work, “Predators” required a fresh and distinctive angle, but the filmmakers are too fastidious and obliging to make it happen.
 
Cast
 
Royce – Adrien Brody
Edwin – Topher Grace
Isabelle – Alice Braga
Stans – Walton Goggins
Nikolai – Oleg Taktarov
Noland – Laurence Fishburne
 
Credits
 
A 20th Century Fox release of a Troublemaker Studios/Davis Entertainment Co. production in association with Dune Entertainment.
Produced by Robert Rodriguez, John Davis, Elizabeth Avellan.
Executive producer, Alex Young.
Co-producer, Bill Scott.
Directed by Nimrod Antal.

  Screenplay, Alex Litvak, Michael Finch, based on characters created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas.