Friday, October 1, 2010
Predators (2010, Nimrod Antal)
Predators is a close approximation of the Predator sequel every fan of the old Dark Horse Predator and Aliens comics has been waiting for. The simple revision of the original film's tough-guys-in-a-jungle vs The Predator is not nearly as outrageous as the many pulpy tales of Predators traveling through time and fighting a lot of Aliens which kept both franchises alive in geek hearts during the many years between sequels. Yet just as the many Alien Vs Predator comic books existed more than a decade before the disappointing film version, Predators owes its existence to comic books written for teenage geeks and judging by the finished film, producer Robert Rodriguez probably enjoyed reading one or two of them more than Paul W.S. Anderson. If nothing else, his sensibilities are suitably more comic book inspired while his choices as a producer lend the whole foolish enterprise a lot of unearned classiness.
To compare for a moment what fans of these franchises have had to put up with, the 2007 sequel to Alien Vs Predator took place in Anysmalltown, USA, with plucky teenagers. That's how easy even a simple idea like Aliens™ fighting Predators™ can be screwed up, and it makes Predators' competence probably a little more striking than deserved.
Rodriguez lavishes whatever serious die hard Predator fans are left out there with heavy usage of the original Alan Silvestri music themes and one very flimsy connection through exposition to the original film identical to the one in Predator II (1990, Stephen Hopkins). This is direct sequelage, a rarity in the age of remakes and reboots, and at this point the thought is almost an act of mercy for beleaguered genre fans. Also indicative of Rodriguez's conscientiousness is the amazing amount of restraint in special effects, especially for a filmmaker whose riches have laid in the cutting edge of digital technology. The script actually attempts to build suspense during the first act around the ceremonious first appearance of the Predators, who are a bunch of big guys lumbering around in full body makeup engaging in simple, clunky slugfests. Nimrod does okay making them seem formidable and doesn't have them start turning into CG characters at any point. The whole affair is as relatively low key as the Schwarzenegger film, only with more Predators.
Only the story details and dialogue matched my low expectations, they're more or less as idiotic as you'd expect. Hardened soldiers, career criminals and other jerks have been dropped on a planet to be hunted by Predators, and in order to kill time while waiting for the Preds to show up we're invited to believe that a random handful of these guys (and one obligatory gal) would band together and try to figure out what's going on. As a jumping off point, this would really fly better in a comic book. The only thoughtful touch is some significant time expended on developing what the fans call the "mythology" and keeping in line with the previous films like a "real sequel" should. The "S" at the end of the title implies an expansion of the first film like James Cameron's Aliens, and while the film doesn't begin to approach that honorific, there wasn't enough in the original 1988 film for that kind of brainstorm to happen anyway. When the author's hearts are in the right place, just enough is plenty.
The biggest mark Rodriguez leaves as producer is in the cast, including the stunt casting of a respectable actor like Adrian Brody. Brody's placement in the Arnold part from the original really shows how much the criteria for action stars has changed since Keanu Reeves. Speaking of The Matrix, there's a long cameo from another respectable actor midway through the film which is easily the highlight of the whole show. If he and Brody were paired together through the whole adventure this could've been something great. Instead, Brody growls gravelly-voiced at a modern multiracial fun bunch of stereotypes ripped from the trendy war-torn headlines and good old reliable ethnic stereotypes. There's a Yakuza ninja who fights a Predator with a sword for goodness sake; another comic book style gratuity. More compellingly tasteless is the African death squad goon who helpfully identifies the remains of a Predator hunt as human skull trophies. There's also Danny "Machete" Trejo (the surest sign of Rodriguez wuz here) as a drug cartel scumbag who recounts Tijuanan kidnapping techniques when the plot requires. Topher Grace blends in as a Russian soldier but doesn't get a chance to use his Chechnyan-raping skills.
With Alice Braga as the nonwhite warrior woman, the meatbag roster on hand for the Predators to slice and dice couldn't be much more different than John McTiernan's half-black, half-white, one token Native American commando squad of the original. Ethnography of action movies aside, what the supposedly tough guys of 2010 have to say to each other in their Predator-less first act isn't a bit as tough or hilariously macho as the verbal interplay of Carl Weathers and Jesse "The Body" Ventura, or even Shane Black. Probably the only funny or memorable dialogue from anyone comes out of the aforementioned secret cameo role. Regardless, they're at least a good collection of mugs and there are more good choices than missteps in the casting.
The only seriously poor choice in the structure of the piece is a pre-Predator scene involving a brief skirmish with their CGI hunting dogs. Having other aliens in a Predator movie diminishes the Predators themselves and more importantly, they simply look like every generic four legged CG beast since Men In Black. This is especially disappointing in light of the lack of CG with the Predators themselves. Their relegation to a single scene suggests the further auspice of Rodriguez.
Predators is dumb yet truly reverent toward fans of the series and better made than the competition: they replicated the basic feel of the first film and threw some more glow in the dark blood around. By the time Adrian Brody is caked in mud, surrounded by jungle and fist fighting a Predator to the end, there's a warm feeling that if the franchise holders can't add anything new they can at least recite the greatest hits and make them look good on screen. Earnest nostalgia is ultimately the key to reliving old thrills, a factor obviously missing from similarly belated 80s franchise sequels like Terminator: Salvation. Predators endearingly caters more to old fans than anyone. The source material is underwhelming but reheated with care; with tin foil in a stove instead of the microwave.