On DVD: Predators

Predators isn't bad, but it isn't good, either, and it's really, really unnecessary. Predators probably would have been more effective had it been released twenty years ago as a direct sequel to the 1987 Schwarzenegger original. It has the feel of the first Predator, and some of the spirit of 1980s action films in general, especially in its creative use of gross-out effects and gore. But we already know what the monsters look like and how they behave, a mystery that provided much of the original movie's suspense, and although a valiant effort has been made to script a new and unique group of ragtag characters, and good casting choices fill those roles, Predators doesn't feel like a sequel. It feels like a desperate grasp into the past in search of material that is more than twenty years past its sell-by date.

A great opening sequence places us in mid-air, tracking a startled Royce (Adrien Brody) as he hurtles down through the clouds, opening a parachute just in time to break his fall before plunging through a tropical canopy to the forest floor. As he collects his wits, he also collects a group of strangers around him, all of whom have been kidnapped, knocked out, and thrown from the same plane. They include a death-row inmate (Walton Goggins), a Mexican enforcer (Danny Trejo), a Yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a sniper (Alice Braga), and an American doctor (Topher Grace), among others. The group is a little slow on the uptake, but they ultimately realize that someone has dropped them into these unfamiliar environs to be hunted - but by what, they don't know. Unfortunately, we
do know, which kills much of the movie's suspense before it hardly begins.

Predictably this group of anti-heroes is killed off one by one, until they are given a brief respite by the appearance of an alarmingly bloated and wickedly funny Laurence Fishburne. He plays a left-over, surviving member of a previous group of humans dumped on what is now known to be an alien planet - not just a strange rainforest.

From here, the suspense simply disappears. Fishburne goes for a Colonel Kurtz-ish eccentricity, but his character as written goes precisely nowhere. His role, like much of the rest of the script, is just one big McGuffin. We don't know who is behind the conspiracy to transport our human anti-heroes to the Predators' planet, or why they are doing it. The film is, like the other
Alien and Predator features, a desperate struggle for survival against unthinking demonic killers. That's a scary premise in and of itself, but the first two Alien films explored that concept so splendidly and thoroughly that everything else just looks sad next to them. Director Nimrod Antal delivers the goods when it comes to staging and editing exciting action, but in terms of plot, character, and style, Predators is old hat.

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