Friday, July 9, 2010
Starring Adrien Brody, Lawrence Fishburn, Alice Braga
Twenty years after their last stand-alone film (the gratuitously mean, violent, and underrated Predator 2) and three years after sharing the screen with Twentieth Century Fox's other flagship big-screen Alien, the cloaking-enabled, green-blooded, ugly-mother pus-buckets get their own franchise back in the Robert Rodriguez produced Predators.
After the suffering through the painfully dull and stupid Alien vs Predator films, Predators is a welcome dose of sweaty fun. While director Nimrod Antal is no John McTiernan behind the camera, he's a more than serviceable action director. And when the action slows down and the bathtub shallow script takes over, the cast picks up the slack, injecting humor into the film and giving the audience something to latch onto besides blood and dismemberment.
The film opens as Royce (Adrien Brody) wakes up tumbling through air miles from the ground. An automatic parachute inflates and he lands, soon to be surrounded by other heavily armed men and one woman, all from various military or combat backgrounds, in the same situation. They've all been shipped to a jungle which, they come to find out, is not of this earth. The planet is a hunting ground, and they are being hunted by an alien life-form. The Predator. And that, reader, is the plot of Predators. A simple hunter/hunted scenario featuring an expendable cast of humans and gnarly looking monsters.
What makes Predators work despite its banal conception is, first and foremost, the creature and effects work, in this case handled by KNB EFX Group Inc, which is headed by the mighty Greg Nicotero (Day of the Dead, Misery, The Mist). Nicotero and his team have taken Sam Winston's original Predator design and made some subtle but nice tweaks, such as giving one of them tusks or having their mandibles move around. Good creature design is always important in a film in which they are the main attraction, and KNB's work in this film far outdoes the bulky, blocky, "wrestler in costume" look of the predators in the AVP films.
Another nice aspect of the film is the cast. I'm liking Adrien Brody more and more with each film he does. He was a victim of the "Oscar curse" for a short while after his win for the Pianist, but now seems to have found his footing. It's a pleasure to see him bounce from smart, bizarre science fiction like Splice to obnoxious, violent affair like Predators. I would never have thought to cast Brody as an action hero (especially in a franchise that started off with the definitive action star Arnold What's-his-name), but he does a great job selling weathered, cold, and (third-act) good-hearted mercenary.
The other performer to knock his part out of the park in this film is Lawrence Fishburn. I haven't seen the man have this much fun with a role in years. If ever. As Noland, the only survivor of the previous hunting sessions and a prisoner on the planet for 10 seasons, Fishburn is unhinged. It's shtick, but it works. The filmmakers are wise to make the role little more than a cameo, but ten more minutes with him would have been perfect.
The rest of the cast range from useless (Danny Trejo in a legitimately disappointing showing) to fine (Alice Braga as cutie Isabelle). Each actor fulfills his or her duties and is then either shuffled off the screen in a gooey, flesh-ripping fashion or sticks around for the final showdown.
Speaking of which, the final showdown is where the film lost me the most. In any sequel (especially in the sci-fi and/or horror genres), nods to previous films is expected and, in some cases, even mandatory. Predators takes this concept one step further. Throughout the film, salutes to the previous films (the first one especially) are in abundance. The mini-gun Jesse Ventura carried around? Check. Falling from a great height into a river with a waterfall in the background? Check. The film's even set in the jungle. The same music cues are used. The traps set look eerily similar to the ones set in the 1987 film. No surprise, really. Welcome, even. However, the last twenty minutes of the film feature actions and dialogue lifted directly from the original. Having Adrien Brody cover his body in cold mud to mask his body temperature from the Predator's heat vision makes little sense, seeing as he never utilizes that defense. The only reason it's shoehorned into the film is as homage to Schwartzenegger's character doing the same thing 23 years ago. The amount of lip-service paid to the original film is at times grating.
Predators is also hampered somewhat by a low budget. While the creature design and most of the effects work is killer, some of the CG and greenscreen work is not. Antal works hard to make the low budget work in the film's favor, but it's simply not possible to ignore the low cost of the film.
All in all Predators, while not a return to the heights of the original nor nowhere near as fun as the second film, is decent, fun escapist entertainment. With plenty of red goo and tight action to satisfy action fans, a whacked out performance from Lawrence Fishburn, to a great creature design, Predators is a welcome entry into that world, and hopefully the start of a better second chapter in the franchise.