Movie Review: Predators

This is the logo for the Nashville Predators, in case you didn’t know.
They're a pretty good team, I hear.

I’ll be frank and say that I went into this movie with the lowest expectations.  The Predator franchise, such as it is, has produced only one good movie, and every subsequent entry in the series has failed to do a single new thing with the premise.  We never see Predator culture, we never see the day to day Predator lifestyle, we never see where Predators buy all their fishnet body stockings.  (Is there a Hot Topic on the Predator Homeworld?  These are the questions!)  We have never even learned a single Predator’s name.  All we’ve been shown in four movies is that 1) Predators hunt dangerous game, 2) Predators routinely fail and die while hunting said game.  With these two facts firmly established, we now come to the fifth Predator movie, Predators, so named (one assumes) because the producers couldn’t agree on whether this is Predator 3 or Predator 5.  How does it fare?  Does it manage to move the franchise forward in any meaningful way?  Does it validate its own existence?

No, it’s just shit.

The trailer shows a crew of “badasses” being dropped into a jungle, where they immediately figure out that they’re on an alien planet game preserve, and the Predators hunt them and kill some of them.  Which, it turns out, is the entire plot of the movie.  The whole movie is that premise.  So essentially, the movie is a remake of Predator, only the jungle is on another planet instead of another continent, and the lead is played by Adrien Brody instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Oh, and instead of it being a crack team of commandoes, it’s a motley collection of soldiers, murderers, and Topher Grace.  I assume this was to raise the stakes, since the movie tries so hard to paint these people as tough and dangerous, worthy foes for the Predators, but it never works.  They argue with each other, and look scornfully at each other, and don’t work as a team; thus they come off as less intimidating as Arnold’s team in the original, which was a cohesive unit that worked together.

I would like to say more about the plot, but there really is nothing else to it.  Humans run, Predators are invisible and kill them.  The only extra plot point is that Adrien Brody wants to get off the planet, so he concocts a plan to steal the Predator starship.  I will give the movie credit on this one, though, since one of the other humans actually asks the question “Do you know how to fly an alien space ship?”  Of course, the plot quickly produces a deus ex machina to make Brody’s plan work, in the form of a captive Predator that understands English.  It felt like someone asked that question on set, and the director and writers scrambled to whitewash in an answer, rather than actually address the gaping plot hole.

The only character of any interest is Lawrence Fishburne, who is a survivor from a previous hunt.  Though he escaped the Predators, he can’t escape the planet, and has gone rather mad while trying to survive.  Seeing how he’s coped (or failed to cope) with his situation is actually engaging, and he comes off as a sympathetic character who had to go mad to keep from committing suicide….

Okay, I can’t do it.  I can’t distort Fishburne’s character to try to make him interesting.  The truth is that the character presents a very interesting idea, that of a long term survivor.  That premise is good, and the psychological ramifications of having time to process that you are being hunted for sport is really intriguing, but the truth is that the movie doesn’t do a goddamn thing with this glimmer of a good idea.  They basically use the character as a way to break up the action between the first and third act, and quickly disposes of him when it comes time to move toward the climax.  The one chance for the series to innovate, and the movie uses it as a scene transition and casts it aside when it’s time for action.

As for the action itself, it’s all garbage.  All but maybe one of the sequences is ripped straight off of Predator, so none of it is fun to watch.  There’s the scene of people shooting their guns at the empty jungle, there’s the scene of people trying to see the invisible Predator, there’s the scene of the Predator targeting people with the three red dots, there’s the scene of the one badass with a blade staying behind to try to kill the Predator or buy time (except this time it’s a Yakuza gangster who knows karate and has a katana, rather than a Native American with a big knife), there’s even the scene where the main character uses mud to disguise his heat signature.  Absolutely nothing is original, and so all of it is boring.

One final thing I want to note is that Adrien Brody is a good actor, but he cannot carry an action movie.  It may be unfair to compare him to Arnold, but the movie invites the comparison by copying the first movie so closely, so too bad.  I just couldn’t buy Adrien Brody as a stern mercenary/former military/world weary soldier/literature enthusiast (at one point he quotes Hemingway).  It doesn’t help that the movie gives him nothing to do aside from look angry and carry around a gun that weighs more than he does.  Obviously a movie this bad wouldn’t have been saved by a stronger lead actor, but trying to convince the audience that the Pianist is a badass mercenary is a battle that is uphill on an ice rink.

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