Wednesday 14 July 2010

Predators (2010)

Wednesday 14 July 2010

A victim of the execrable Alien Vs Predator couplet, 1987 action classic Predator gets a second direct sequel, masterminded by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) as an attempt to repair the franchise's damaged reputation. As exec-producer, Rodriguez's heart's in the right place; a half-decent premise based on his own unmade 1994 screenplay, brought to life with competent direction from Nimrod Antal (Armored), but Predators ultimately fails to deliver much beyond perhaps three enjoyable sequences that are boosted by residual fondness for this beleaguered franchise.

A group of human "predators" (mercenaries, killers) find themselves parachuted onto an alien world -- specifically a planetary "game reserve", where they soon realize they're the kidnapped prey for dreadlocked extra-terrestrial hunters. The strangers are the usual trash-talking stereotypes, spouting banter and rejoinders you can mouth along to: the lone wolf soldier (Adrien Brody), the tough Latina (Alice Braga), the silent Yakuza hitman (Louis Ozawa Changchien), the tribal savage (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), the grizzled Mexican (Danny Trejo), the stoical Russian (Oleg Taktarov), the Southern criminal (Walton Goggins), the timorous doctor (Topher Grace) and, later, the crazy black man (Laurence Fishburne, giving the funniest/worst performance of his career).

Like many sequels, Predators' attempt to provide something fresh yet in-keeping with the original works better on paper than in practice. The twist here is simple and pleasing enough ("baddie" humans on alien turf, facing multiple hunters) and while it's an inevitable direction to take it still inspires early feelings of promise. Sadly, so much of the movie fails to capitalize on its own potential -- perhaps not helped by a relatively low $40m budget and memories of Avatar's own alien jungle still fresh in pop-culture memory. Everything here feels curiously small-scale and unimaginative, and the movie struggles to compensate with anything creative in terms of storytelling and character. Even on a superficial level, the new Predator weaponry is scant and sorely disappointing, while the violence is largely timid. The movie features a scene where a man's skull and spine is ripped clean from his dead body, yet it somehow lacks any sense of actual horror.

Truth is, we as the audience are ten steps ahead of the characters for the first 40-minutes, before it becomes increasingly clear that the Predator mythology has been squeezed almost dry and there's nothing left to say of any substance. There are a few moments where the script throws up an enjoyable new angle on the mythos for fanboys to yelp at, or a sequence works because you're not entirely sure where the narrative's headed (although one key question is annoyingly left unanswered to provide a weak sequel opportunity), but for long stretches you're reminded that the franchise only really had enough mileage for one movie, and everything since has offered fans mild tweaks to the formula.

On the plus side: the Predator beasts themselves are physically closer to the creature from the first two movies (although I still hate how their oversized masks resemble bulky crash helmets nowadays); the CGI is used sparingly and visually improve on the tropes of the franchise (heat-vision, cloaking); there's a fairly enjoyable sense of alacrity to the plot, so the movie doesn't noticeably start to disintegrate until just after the halfway mark; and I enjoyed how the soundtrack reprised the drum-beatin' themes from the original's iconic OST.

But considering the surprise gathering of talented people for what amounts to a B-movie franchise that doesn't deserve or warrant a sequel, Predators is hobbled by a lack of ambition, cardboard characterisation, weak dialogue, obvious plotting, an absence of deep-rooted fear, the fact few of the humans are as badass as they're designed to be, and an open-ended climax that leaves you unsatisfied. When the dust settled after the ruckus, I just felt annoyed that I allowed myself to get my hopes up beforehand.

DIRECTOR: Nimród Antal
WRITERS: Alex Litvak & Michael Finch
CAST: Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo, Oleg Taktarov, Louis Ozawa Changchien & Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
RUNNING TIME: 107 mins. BUDGET: $40m