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Predators (2010) ***

July 10, 2010

written by: Michael Finch & Alex Litvak (based on characters created by Jim & John Thomas)
produced by: Robert Rodriguez, John Davis & Elizabeth Avellan
directed by: Nimród Antal
rated R (for strong creature violence and gore, and pervasive language)
107 min.
U.S. release date: June 9, 2010
Just as a groggy Adrien Brody suddenly gains consciousness in mid free-fall surrounded by clouds with his limbs flailing in the wind, so does director Nimród Antal immediately immerse his audience into “Predators”. It’s an adrenalized introduction that tells less about the man falling from the sky with a technologically advanced parachute strapped to his torso, and more about the urgency of the situation. It’s also a familiar formula to the “Predator” films of the past where little time is wasted on who the characters are but more on the perilous situation they find themselves in. More important than who they are or where they are from is what they will do given the environment that is thrust upon them. 
But we know what’s coming, there will be rasta aliens toying with humans once again.  Antel along with producer Robert Rodriguez, splice together just the right amount of panic and disorientation to keep us absorbed right from the start.  Then they lay out a familiar scenario; a group of people band together in a dense jungle and realize they are being hunted by an otherworldly foe. Only in this case, the jungle is on another planet, the people have never met each other and there are more than just Predators to deal with.
The man we will come to know as Royce (Adrien Brody) is still getting his bearings after dropping into a foreign jungle. Dressed as a mercenary, it would appear he’s the kind of guy who’s well-equipped for just about any situation. We’ll see about that. One by one, he comes across other “experts” in their field respective fields. 
There’s the Mexican (Danny Trejo), an apparent drug cartel enforcer and the
minigun wielding Russian soldier Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov),  and then we meet sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga). Soon they encounter others who have been dropped from the sky, including a Sierra Leone death officer (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), an abrasive death row inmate (Walton Goggins), and a silent Yakuza assassin (Louis Ozawa Changchien), as well as a doctor (Topher Grace) with eyeglasses and a knowledge of toxic plants. Except for the doctor, all these characters could easily have their own action figure complete with their own specialty weapons. They all have the same questions though: Who brought them here? Where is here? Why are they here? and How do we get out of here?
It doesn’t take long for all of them to agree that they’re being hunted in some kind of game preserve. Maybe it’s the disemboweled remains and skinned corpses they find as they make their way through the jungle. While they’re trying to figure out who their hunters are, they also have to deal with issues like doubt and trust among the group. Something that the Predators may have planned on as they close in for the kill.
Throwing strangers into a perilous, against-all-odds situation is a familiar concept but it’s one that often works. It certainly works here and it’s an improvement from 1994’s “Surviving the Game” but not quite the classic that is 1932’s “The Most Dangerous Game” based on a short story by Richard Connell. Which is fine, after all, screenwriters are taking an original pitch from Rodriguez, adding this familiar concept and placing it in an established sci-fi film franchise. Regardless of where the film takes place, anytime you can get a viewer to think, “what would I do?” in a situation they are watching, then there’s some possibility.
The film is a confident attempt to get back to the sound and vision of the original 1987 classic “Predator” in hopes of re-aligning the franchise with what worked in the past. I remain one of the few that will support “Predator 2” with its urban setting but it makes sense that we’re back in the jungle and better yet, on another planet which clearly elevates the stakes. Rodriguez is an obvious fan and oversees Antal as they make sure much of the requisite elements are present here. There’s plenty of bloody violence (including the glo-stick green goo we’ve come to know in the series), cheesy lines, one on one showdowns and inevitable revelation on what it takes to survive.

There actually may not be as much action as an audience may expect until the end but I was attracted to the breaks in the action. Like when the group meet another Noland (Lawrence Fishburne), who turns out to be a detached and disturbed survivor who’s managed to endure seven “seasons” of these war games by burrowing in an old abandoned spaceship. The character may drop some obvious exposition and the scenes are a diversion from all the expected action, but Fishburne, and his wandering expressions and whispering lines, has fun with the role. If anything, the character gives the rest of the player plenty motivation to get off the rock they are on.  
The final act is slightly disappointing only in that I found myself expecting a lot more Predators. Based on the trailer that deceptively showed a gazillion lazer crosshairs targeting Brody’s body, I wanted to see a crazy amount of multi-mandibled ugliness on the screen. Didn’t happen. Still, it’s well-executed action involving two different types of Predators duking it out, the classic one we’ve come to know and a larger, nastier one. Since the main star is Oscar winner Brody, someone who holds the film together despite any fanboy doubts, you know he will be the one to go up against the last Predator standing. While that’s no surprise, the fight sequences do have a nice bit of tactical know-how and built-up savagery that payoff.
Regardless of slight mishaps, “Predators” holds up well in a summer full of 80’s revisits. Rodriguez and Antal (“Vacancy” & “Armored”) deliver a film that is respects what it belongs to. While it feels like it’s been a long wait for such an entertaining sequel, it’s also a worthy addition to the franchise. Die-hard fans shouldn’t be disappointed since there are noticeable ties to the first film and it is a much-needed summer release for sci-fi action enthusiasts.  


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