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Monday, July 12, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Predators

If there’s any proof that there are smart people at Fox, it is Predators. Granted, the film was made by Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios, but it took a bright man to hire talent from the outside. What’s more impressive is just how damn awesome the film is. Being the ultimate 1980s sci-fi/action throwback, the Predators are back with a vengeance.

The movie wastes no time throwing you into action. Adrian Brody’s Royce awakes in mid-air, flailing helplessly for a ripcord that may or may not be there. Once he’s “safe,” Royce finds himself fraternizing with ex-cons, various military personnel and mercenaries to figure out where they are. But once it’s clear that they’re being hunted, Royce makes the daring decision to fight back.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Predator in a decent flick. Predator 2 wasn’t terrible, but oddly cheesy for a character with such bloodlust. The Aliens vs. Predator flicks are guilty pleasures of mine, yes, but only because they make for fun midnight, b-movies. Otherwise they’re nefarious abortions of great concepts. Predators is the purest sequel to the 1987 classic. The characters are well-written and wonderful examples of testosterone induced heroes you actually care about. Sure, they’re not well developed, but neither were the cast of the original film. We never find out why Royce is such a badass, but he displays said badassary with such believability as he leads the characters through the jungle.

This convincing strut of awesomeness is a real treat from Adrian Brody. (A man who once reminded me of a pencil with Cpl. Max Klinger’s nose.) The man is beefed beyond belief and he pulls off the battlefield hardened anti-hero like he was born for it. Another surprise was Alice Braga’s sniper-rifle toting Isabelle. It’s hard to believe that a female part would work in a movie like this, but her aura echoes the seriousness of action heroines like Sarah Connor and Ripley. And Laurence Fishburne? Comparable to William Hurt in A History of Violence. He’s a true, albeit short, presence.

Meanwhile, the film’s title characters find a complete return to mystery and suspense. Predator 2 and AVP blew up the mythology in a way only George Lucas would love-- Revealing an overly technological Predator home world and a back-story out of a Stargate episode. Here their secrets are reeled back, making for more engaging and mysterious creatures. The jungle is truly where the Predators belong.

We do get some new glimpses in to this savage take on the alien hunters. A blood feud between two different types of Predators is established not only as insight, but a helpful plot device. The “crucified” Predator introduces the creatures to the audience in a brave way. Though previous entries have repeatedly tried to surprise us with the creature-under-the-mask trick, director Nimrod Antal makes the decision to humanize the “lesser” Predator only to reveal much nastier creatures. It works because it’s unexpected. Unlike most sequels these days, Predators refuses to rely on the cliché of repeating classic lines of dialogue, or copying scenes from prequels. If you spot an homage, it’ll be subtle.

This isn’t to say the movie isn’t without faults. The biggest eyebrow raiser begins with the alien world that looks a lot like a jungle on Earth. When one character mentions a specific plant species I couldn’t help but wonder if every alien world looked just like Earth. A new concept perhaps, but pretty dull.

Outside of the minor gripes Predators delivers. It’s not a great movie, but it’s well crafted. No it doesn’t feature “deep” or “moving” characters. But it gives us likable ones to root for. The movie is a classic action romp, dependent on muscles and sweat instead of CGI and explosions. It uses its characters for the heavy lifting and keeps them believable while doing so. That’s far more than I can say for seemingly immortal casts that fly tanks.

*** out of ****

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