Movie Review: ‘Predators’

July 9, 2010, Austin American-Statesman

In “Predators,” Adrien Brody speaks in a low, tough-guy grumble that film action heroes have increasingly adapted to transmit portentous bravado and rugged reserve. Think Christian Bale in “The Dark Knight” — a guttural, irritated rasp that holds steady, never jumping a register, even in the most high-voltage situations. It’s the voice of a guy who’s in a perpetual state of punching you in the mouth.
Brody, despite expectations, makes a persuasive grumbler, with a carriage so intensely temperate that he’s all reflex. His mouth is a fearsome slit, his eyes bullets. Not once does he smile.

There’s no relaxing on the mysterious planet on which Brody and seven others have been literally dropped. They tumble from the sky (don’t ask), landing in an Amazonian jungle, where they have been “chosen” by an alien breed we movie-watching humans have aptly dubbed Predators.

Robert Rodriguez’s reboot of the “Predator” franchise — he stayed respectfully faithful to 1987’s classic original and jettisoned its risible sequel — is a clenched affair, not exactly scary, yet a solid rock-’em-blast-’em entertainment punch, drippy with fetishized gore, a welcome throwback to ’80s action-horror. If the plot is irretrievably formulaic – man vs. beasts in the jungle – the movie delivers in bringing a gaggle of gut-ripping creatures to full, repulsive light.

You remember them. Tall, armored monsters with infrared vision that can track characters’ every move. Snaky dreadlocks swinging from reptilian heads. Rings of hooked tusks girdling gaping, slavering mouths that doubtlessly expel punishing halitosis. And those sounds: beads of clickety-clack chirrups, something between Morse code and a hearty burp.

Rodriguez didn’t direct this “Predators,” but he exerted a firm hand as producer and wrote the original screenplay on which it’s based (he brought in writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch to pump up a new version). He hired Nimród Antal (of last year’s “Armored”) for directing duties. Antal shows a capable instinct for frantic action terror. The encounters between people and Predators are sharp; you can see exactly what’s happening.

Brody and his hastily assembled, not always mutually friendly crew — which is conveniently and perfectly interracial — have no idea where they are, or why. Until, that is, Brody, with unlikely speed, divines that they have been selected as prey on a gigantic game preserve run by the monsters.

What unfolds with sweat-drenched frenzy are cat-and-mouse chases and showdowns, including a nifty sword fight between a predator and — get this — one of the team who happens to be a Japanese yakuza. With his samurai sword and the creature’s retractable blade, they battle like a scene out of Kurosawa. (The wind-swept grassy field is a nice touch.)

All of the hunted humans are equipped with weapons, from machine guns to a pitiful knife, so they are generally equipped for combat. Topher Grace, Danny Trejo and, in a cameo, Laurence Fishburne are the most familiar names in the movie. It’s one of those set-ups in which you can tell right off who’s gonna get it and who will bravely survive. (And then there were some.)

The film’s debts to 1932’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” the first “Predator,” “Alien” and “Lost” are happily noticeable. “Predators” plays off the terrifying unknown, the stealth killers in the shadows ready to pounce. In this case, not only do the Predators want to skin and tear apart the humans, but so does a pack of galloping animals that look like the love-children of a very husky wolf and a triceratops.

“Predators,” shot in the Austin area and Hawaii, revels in terror while exploring very conventional human dynamics, pack mentality, loyalty and betrayal. Nothing original emerges from the wispy subtext, if you can even call it that. What it’s really about is indulgent gore and bald survival and scaring the pants off us.

The film’s pacing could have been massaged. Action sequences arrive between quieter interludes at a predictable tempo — verse/chorus/verse — and the longueurs drag.

While there are plenty of Predators in “Predators,” there might have been a tad more Predator-ing.

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