- Directed by Nimrod Antal
- Written by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch
- Starring Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace, Alice Braga and Walton Goggins
- Classification: 14A
Not quite a sequel and not exactly a reboot, Predators is perhaps best described as a revival - and a reverent one - of a movie franchise that began in 1987 with John McTiernan's Predator.
In the singular original, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the leader of an elite squad of military types who are dropped into the Guatemalan jungle and find themselves being hunted by an armed, alien life form (with the ability to track them using thermal imaging and to cloak its presence) that starts killing them one by one. Predator has endured as a popular cult flick, but, in terms of the franchise, it was downhill after that. A 1990 sequel starring Danny Glover and set in L.A. was a dud. Two "crossover" Alien vs. Predator flicks released last decade were even worse.
During the interval between the sequels, Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez - a writer-director who was the hot new property in Hollywood in the early 1990s - was hired to write a new screenplay to reignite the franchise but it never got made. Two new writers have turned his original work into a functional script that pretty much stays the safe course - with a couple of decent twists to keep things interesting. But it's the old-school approach of director Nimrod Antal (resisting the 3-D trend, relying on costumes, sets and physical action as opposed to loads of CGI effects) and some spirited performances that give Predators its teeth.
The basic set-up is that a multi-racial group of hardened military killers and criminals and a fraidy-cat doctor (Topher Grace), who seems the odd man out here, are individually captured (carrying whatever arms they happen to have on hand at the time) and dropped in cages by parachute into a thick jungle. At first unknown to each other (they mostly don't bother with names), they are forced to work together to figure out where they are, who brought them there and why. Adrien Brody, adopting a manly growl (and either buffed up or wearing a muscle vest), is wonderfully cast against type as the ruthless mercenary who appoints himself leader and is the first to figure out they're prey.
In what one can only assume is a deliberately cliché B-movie moment, the group emerges from the jungle to the edge of ridge and everyone realizes they're not in Kansas anymore - the sky is jammed with planets and moons of various sizes. Alice Braga's Israeli sniper - a refreshing female presence in the mix - reveals she knows something about the alien hunter, and shares the basic plot of the Predator story which she heard about through the elite military grapevine. The gang gets more detailed info about what they're in for with the surprise arrival of Laurence Fishburne, in an over-the-top turn as a lone survivor who had scavenged to stay alive while slowly going cuckoo a la Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz.
The best scene in the movie is actually the quietest, when Louis Ozawa Changchien, who plays a tight-lipped Japanese gangster, strips down to the waist for a sword fight against one of the three alien hunters in an open field of wind-swept grass. Otherwise, Predators follows the sweaty, desperate bunch as they are knocked off, one by one, until only Brody, Braga and Grace's characters are left to make a run for a cloaked spaceship near the hunters' campsite.
Of course, there are a couple more twists around the corner. Like its forerunners and several other movies of varying quality, Predators is rooted in a widely anthologized 1924 story by Richard Connell called The Most Dangerous Game, in which a big-game hunter falls off a yacht, swims to an island and is hunted by a bored Russian aristocrat, also a big-game enthusiast, who eerily seems to know much about his latest human prey.
Predators never gives us the satisfaction of knowing what motivates the alien hunters to use humans for sport, but at least it has fun showing us that humans can, indeed, be the most dangerous game.
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