Scary Movies (And Super Creeps) – Predators

Every week Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a horror movie worth checking out. Today: If it bleeds, we can kill it!

I’ve long had a soft spot for the Predator series. The original 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film was the first R rated movie that I saw as a kid. My parents, rewarding me for doing well in school, let me rent any movie I wanted to from Blockbuster. I chose Predator.

As I sat three feet from the television set — my eyes glued to the screen as Schwarzenegger and his combat crew showered the Mexican jungle with enough ammo to let Chuck Heston fulfill his longstanding dream of swimming Scrooge McDuck-style through a swimming pool full of bullets — something took hold of my childhood imagination that afternoon.

As soon as the movie was over, I was outside in the backyard hanging off the jungle gym set and pretending to be an alien predator stalking my prey a.k.a. my very suspicious dog.

The true litmus test for my affection for Predator came when I saw the almost universally derided Predator 2. My love for the film series was enough to help me look past the sequel’s many flaws and see the joyful wonderment of the Predator I knew and loved fighting Danny Glover in the heat-stricken streets of L.A.

I mean, the film had Gary Busey, Rubén Blades and Bill Paxton in it? What’s not to love?

I am such a Predator fan that I stuck through both Alien vs. Predator films. That’s the type of abusive relationship-born-love that Lifetime makes original movies about.

With Predators, though, I hoped I had finally been given a sequel that would match the visceral experience I felt when I saw Predator for the first time. After all, Robert Rodriguez, another film entity that I have an unhealthy dedication to, was producing the film.

I’m happy to say that Predators, while not without its major problems, is an enjoyable film that comes very close to capturing the spirit of the original movie. While it doesn’t quiet achieve the goals it set out to accomplish (more on that later), it offers a fun ride with likable characters you can root for.

The film wastes no time getting started. As the movie opens, Royce, a hardened mercenary played by Adrien Brody, is plummeting through the sky on a one-way collision course with the ground. Royce is just one of a handful of strangers who find themselves snatched from their lives and brought to an alien planet where they will be hunted by the galaxy’s most dedicated NRA members.

The strangers all have one thing in common — they are predators in their own world. From drug cartel enforcers to soldiers to criminals to mobsters, the strangers each have their own skill set and weapon of choice.

It is in this way that Predators is essentially a theatrical adaptation of an imaginary badass video game or action figure line. It’s obvious that the humans gathered to be hunted were concepts first, characters second. When coming up with the cast of Predators, Rodriguez and his team (including director Nimród Antal and writers Michael Finch and Alex Litvak) seemed to have taken to the Internet to come up with a who’s who list of the baddest asses possible. In fact, I’m half surprised that they didn’t try and wrangle in Batman somewhere in that lineup.

Standouts in the cast include Walton Goggins as a squirrely white-trash death row convict who’s handy with a shiv and Alice Braga as a tough-as-nails Israeli Defense Forces sniper.

The one character I didn’t quite buy was Topher Grace as a (SPOILER ALERT) serial killer. While he certainly provided some much appreciated levity to the film’s sometimes over-the-top seriousness, when the time came for the big reveal and Grace showed why his character had been selected among the rest of the film’s cast of killers, I feel the filmmakers really dropped the ball. Grace as a serial killer is in inspired choice. I wish they hadn’t played the character’s true identity as a twist though. Instead, I would have preferred to see a badass Dexter-like killer slinking through the jungles establishing himself as somebody not to be messed with as he picked off victims (both alien and human) who get separated from the pack.

There had to be a reason why he was chosen for a field trip to the hunting preserve. I can’t imagine that a simple “pick off the vulnerable” vulture of a man would have impressed the Predators enough to have taken the time to kidnap him. (/SPOILER ALERT)

Once the strangers establish that they are not in Kansas anymore, it’s time for them to be slowly picked off one by one by the three unseen Predators that are hunting them. These aren’t your daddy’s Predators, though.

A different breed of alien then the hunters that showed up in the first two films, these Predators are larger in size and sporting more advanced technology. Which brings me to a bit of a gripe I’ve developed with the series over time.

The Predators are always referred to as amazing hunters but really it’s their superior technology such as heat vision and cloaking that allow them to be so good at tracking and killing their prey. Calling the Predators amazing hunters is like calling Sarah Palin an amazing hunter as she shoots wolves from a helicopter.

OK, back to the movie.

By calling the movie Predators, Rodriguez and his team were clearly trying to evoke the memory of James Cameron’s Aliens — a sequel that considerably upped the stakes from the original film and turned a classic horror movie into a blockbuster action franchise.

Unfortunately, Predators‘ filmmakers aren’t quite able to achieve that same paradigm shift. Predators, despite the change in terrestrial scenery and the increased exoticness of weapons available, never manages to exceed the action of the original film. It comes very close but close only counts in horseshoes and alien plasma grenades.

While some may point to the film’s lack of a Schwarzenegger-like he-man in the center spotlight as the reason why the movie fails to live up to the original, I must disagree. While he may be lacking the imposing physical prowess of Schwarzenegger, Adrien Brody does a fine job as a mercenary on the edge of his own humanity.

Hardened by the wars he’s seen — though not unattracted to the thrill of carnage — Brody as Royce is more than believable. As he fights back against the alien hunters, Brody never once slips from his tough-guy persona. I’d certainly like to see him in more action-oriented films.

I think the real reason the movie failed to resonate with audiences has to do with the fact that it never quite rises to the promise of its own premise. The idea of an alien planet full of potential hunting options for the Predators is a rich concept that was, in the end, a bit underutilized. With a wide-open galaxy full of alien species, why did the humans only run into a few different non-Predator ETs? I’d love to have seen some more players on the board besides gun-toting Earthlings or naked bug beasties.  If the filmmakers had used the same creativity to come up with new kinds of aliens to sprinkle across the jungle as they did coming up with warrior stereotypes, the film could have been truly epic.

In the end, though, the movie needed a bigger budget and a more climatic end battle to truly inherit the legacy of James Cameron’s Aliens.

The catch-22, though, is that the relatively small budget is what attracted Fox to Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios. I can understand why the film was made the way it was — I just wish things were different. Which brings me to my biggest disappointment with Predators — the fact that it was a Predators movie.

If the film had offered no ties to the original film and was an entirely new idea sprung from the minds of Rodriguez and his team, I think it would have left a larger impact on audiences than it did.

Predators could have been like Pitch Black — a low budget action film that came out of nowhere and surprised theatergoers with a fun time. With the added baggage of a franchise, though, the movie lumbered across the finish line to a crowd that had already packed up its ticker tape.

As a Predator movie, Predators doesn’t quite meet the expectations audiences came prepared with. As an action film, though, the movie is well worth a watch. Between Brody’s enthusiastic machismo and the relatively briskly paced plot, the movie more than entertains. And really, shouldn’t that be enough for a movie about killer aliens?

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