Review: Predators

Adrian Brody and Alice Braga in 'Predators'
Adrian Brody and Alice Braga in 'Predators'

Predators begins in free fall (literally), builds up a good head of steam, comes to a crashing halt, and then can’t quite get all its cylinders to fire again.

It’s a good ride, though, and presents solid, crunching action. Director Nimród Antal deftly makes use of the elements he’s been provided; Adrien Brody is convincing as a lean, intelligent loner / leader; Alice Braga steps up as an equal opportunity soldier of fortune — even if she is dangerously empathetic; Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins, and Danny Trejo contribute memorable bits. This is the sequel that the original Predator deserved.

John McTiernan’s 1987 film is a crisp model of efficient storytelling that’s so good it makes it look easy to make an action thriller. That’s the real art: making the audience see the forest rather than the trees. The seams are present, but you really don’t care.

The picture’s financial success demanded a sequel. Directed by Stephen Hopkins, Predator 2 transplants the action from the jungles of Central America to the streets of Los Angeles, an intriguing premise that doesn’t deliver the same thrills. Maybe part of the problem was that the bloodthirsty alien creature wasn’t sufficiently ferocious, especially in 1990 America. The city was dangerous enough as it was, and a tall, insect-like alien preying on ordinary citizens — or even the well-armed gangs and police force — didn’t seem out of the ordinary.

The less said about the creature’s appearance versus a certain Alien/Aliens, the better.

Predators returns the action to the jungle, dropping a disparate group of wary killing machines from around the world into alien territory. The men, and one woman, are all experienced in handling weapons and are all accustomed to killing when needed; all except Edwin (Topher Grace), a geeky scientist who seems way out of his element. He’s immediately suspected as a ringer by one of the men, a passing thought that is quickly dismissed.

Before too much time has passed, Loner Dude (Brody) surmises that the group has been chosen, captured, and transported to an alien game preserve in which they are the hunted. This comes as no great surprise to anyone who has seen either the movie’s trailer or the original film, but it highlights one of the great challenges faced by a second direct sequel: How do you make an effective mystery work for the characters when the audience knows all the answers?

Predators is, indeed, paced like a mystery and plays out as one. The action comes in spurts: an attack by fierce, four-legged, horned creatures; an intricate series of traps; a sneak attack. All the while, the group is testing one another. Loner Dude doesn’t even want to give his name; he’s solely focused on survival. Empathetic Warrior Chick doesn’t reveal her name, either, but she’s determined not to leave anyone behind.

The rogue’s gallery doesn’t get any more time for characterization than the original did, so they’re reduced to their country of origin: Russia (Oleg Taktarov), Sierra Leone (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), Japan (Louis Ozawa Changchien), Mexico (Danny Trejo), and Felony USA (the great Walton Goggins from The Shield).

Predators proceeds at a good clip until the aforementioned full stop, which itself is a hoary plot device to fill in some back story that’s really not needed. That particularly sequence is darkly-lit and spooky, recalling Antal’s first film, Kontroll, on which cinematographer Gyula Pados also served as director of photography.

In fact, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the look and feel of the film, it’s just that the screenplay, credited to Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, can’t conjure up any real surprises. Nor does it offer up any memorable bits of dialogue, though the actors occasionally wring some humor from the delivery of their lines.

Antal’s previous forays into Hollywood, Vacancy and, especially, Armored (the first review posted on this site), were tightly-wound and stylish pictures. Predators doesn’t feel as organically whole and complete as those flicks, so it ends up less satisfying than it should have been, even though it’s an above-average film.

Is that evidence of the hand of producer Robert Rodriguez? From the outside, it’s impossible to say. Here’s hoping that Antal moves on to more original fare, instead of serving as director for hire.

[Predators is now playing wide through the Metroplex. Check theater listings for showtimes.]