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Review: ‘Predators’

This Time There’s More Than One!

Adrien Brody and Alice Braga find themselves hunted in

Above: Adrien Brody and Alice Braga find themselves hunted in "Predators"

As Hollywood keeps turning to 80s films for remakes, let’s try to remember one thing: those films weren’t always that great to begin with. So with that in mind here comes “Predators” (opening July 9 throughout San Diego), the not quite a remake, not quite a sequel, not quite a reboot of the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “Predator.”

Okay this is like going from “Alien” to “Aliens,” the ‘s’ is important in promising not just one but a bunch of alien creatures. “Predators” proceeds with a brief nod to the original film while completely ignoring the second film and pretty much all the ridiculous “AVP” film spin offs. But the storyline is essentially the same as the John McTiernan 1987 actioner in that it pits a group of humans against an alien or multiple aliens with a taste for hunting for sport.

This time out a group of people literally falls from the sky onto an alien planet. They seem to have no memory of anything except waking up in freefall. But they quickly ascertain certain facts: each one has lethal skills (the one exception is so obvious a red herring you’d have to be an idiot to buy into it), and there’s something or things trying to kill them. That’s it. It could easily be a video game where you get to be a predator tracking, hunting, and killing human prey. It’s very straightforward and linear, and in that respect, a bit ho-hum.

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Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

Director Nimród Antal and producer Robert Rodriguez on the set of "Predators"

Now the original “Predator” was no great shakes. It was a run of the mill Arnold actioner that people have developed a somewhat excessive and nostalgic fondness for. It was fun but not particularly clever or even well done. So “Predators” is about in the same league. But I have to admit that having Robert Rodrguez' name, even just as producer, allowed me to hope that the film might be good. In the end, though, it's just a mindless popcorn movie and if you check your brain at the door, you're likely to be amused. It might have been better if Robert Rodriguez had directed rather than just produced. He could have kicked up the action a notch and found a way – as he did in “Planet Terror” – to pay homage to a genre while reinventing it. But director Nimród Antal (who previously had done “Armored” and “Vacancy”) is not up to that task. He keeps the plot and action moving at a decent pace but he has no sense of fun and no affinity for action sequences.

But the bulk of the blame for the film’s blandness lies with newbie writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch. They bring nothing fresh to the franchise. They revisit the basics like vultures coming to an already picked over carcass. But fail to kick it up a notch and find a way to reinvigorate the familiar. For one they kill off their characters in completely the wrong order. I won’t give any spoilers but you should kill the lamest characters first rather than making us suffer through the whole movie with them. But in "Predators," we lose some fun characters (and fun actors) early on and miss them immediately. Plus the writers completely waste a character played by Laurence Fishburne.

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Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

Laurence Fishburne as a man who manages to evade the "Predators"

Now many doubted that Adrien Brody – Oscar winner for his brooding sensitive work in “The Piano” – could play the Arnold-esque role. But apparently he wanted the role and even beefed up for it. But when he rips off his shirt to show his rippled abs, the audience and I couldn’t help but giggle. It’s not so much that he looked bad but the whole scene was silly, It made me think, you can put abs on the boy but that doesn’t make him a bad-ass. But having Brody in the role did make it easier for the character to quote Hemingway with some credibility.

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Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

Adrien Brody shows his six pack in "Predators"

The alien predators looked much better than they have in a long time. Having multiple aliens and predators in the “AVP” series meant that less time was spent on effects trying to make each creature look really kick ass and more time on a lot of CGI to convey quantity over quality. At least “Predators” is smart enough to go for a small group of creatures and the film takes time to at least make the faces look cool and nasty. The big fight between two predators, however, did have a certain men in rubber suit quality to it but without the sense of fun you get in a kaiju battle.

“Predators” (rated R for strong creature violence and gore, and pervasive language) is a fun popcorn movie. I was expecting it to be a lot worse so it was something of a surprise that it delivered decent action. But it would have been so nice if it delivered more than that.

Companion viewing: “Predator,” “Alien,” “Blade II”

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