A spirited and slickly mounted production that suffers more from sins of omission than commission, Predators gives distributor 20th Century Fox good reason to believe there’s life yet left in their alien hunters franchise.
Directed by Nimrod Antal (Vacancy), from a script by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, Predators opens with Adrien Brody awakening in a mid-air free-fall, dumped from up high on what turns out to be an alien planet, with a parachute that (naturally) barely opens in time. Brody’s square-jawed Royce, it turns out, is an experienced mercenary. In a matter of minutes, he’s soon surrounded by Isabelle (Alice Braga), an Israeli Defense Force sniper, and a set of assorted killers, scumbags and underworld enforcers (Danny Trejo, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Walter Goggins and Louis Ozawa Changchien), with Topher Grace’s wimpy Chicago doctor apparently the odd man out. They quickly squash their beef, this group, rightly assuming that greater dangers lurk not too far around the edges of their strange new environment.
Firefights with boar-like beasties ensue. It seems that these alien predators apparently value the very sport of death-hunting, and having dangerous human game helps keep them on their toes, and adapt to new strategies of defense. At least that’s what the group eventually finds out from Noland (Laurence Fishburne), a cracked veteran they stumble across who’s been surviving on his own. As the predators’ hunt commences, the humans scramble to stay alive, and Royce hatches a long-shot plot to try to locate and commandeer the cloaked alien spaceship.
Other than a token fealty to the variable degrees by which characters’ actions are governed by some sense of human connection instead of purely self-interest, Predators doesn’t offer up much in the way of subtext or nuance. Instead, it’s mostly about action and letting viewers get a (nostalgic, for some) kick from seeing aliens using their heat-signature vision, and making their now characteristic gurgley-clicking noises. Its technical execution is fairly slick, but, damningly, the movie leaves untapped intrigue and tension on the table.
Its characterizations are thin (no great shock there) and its dialogue rarely more than functional, but also, crucially and unrealistically, there’s a level of basic unexamined human interaction to the movie that’s pretty baffling. When Royce and the others, all strangers, somewhat suss out that they’re each familiar with violence, let’s say, to put it euphemistically, no one ever glares at Grace’s character, points, and says, “Hey, what about this whitebread kid with glasses?” They just don’t have the conversation, which could be accomplished in a minute of screen time. Coming on the heels of the conclusion of small screen phenomenon Lost, which similarly made hay out of a group of strangers thrown together into an insane and intense situation in a remote environment, Predators seems especially lacking in this regard — in its steadfast, almost allergic avoidance to any sort of intellectual reasoning regarding the group’s surroundings and who might have put them there. Even if — as correctly ascertained and certainly born out through immediate experience — it’s basically just a survival-hunt obstacle course, wouldn’t all the gun-toting-types recognize the one not like the other, and voice something about that? Part of this, in theory, is to preserve a slight twist near the movie’s conclusion, but it doesn’t pass muster. It’s lame to (exclusively) have characters this plugged-in, reflexively unanalytical and ready to go.
What gives Predators its kick and pull, then, is its casting. The inking of Brody to the film (along with that of Grace) initially drew plenty of raised eyebrows from fans, but he handles the crypto-macho thing with aplomb, and steely nerve. Even though he’s beefed up a bit (20 pounds, say feature interviews, but that seems a bit generous), it cuts against the grain to see a somewhat lean, normally proportioned guy wading into the breach in a movie like this, and it comes off as refreshing. Braga, meanwhile, is solid, in the role that would have surely been given a bit too much sneering surface toughness by Michelle Rodriguez. And then there’s Fishburne, who wanders into the film deep in its second act, and absolutely owns a whispery-crazy scene in which he imparts some of the wisdom he’s gleaned from 10 “seasons” of hunting and being hunted. These three performances — in addition to the creative misfire that was 2007’s Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem — are a shared reminder that while otherworldly hunters may be the slaying stars of the show in the Predator series, humans still matter most in the equation. (20th Century Fox, R, 106 minutes)