Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
July 2010

The most dangerous game

Brody proves himself an action star, but 'Predators' can't escape its missed opportunities

20th Century Fox
Director: Nimrod Antal
Screenplay: Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, based on characters created by Jim Thomas and John Thomas
Starring: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Danny Trejo and Laurence Fishburne
Rated R / 1 hour, 46 minutes
(out of four)

OK, let's be honest: We all knew that nothing with the word "Predator" in the title - plural or otherwise - was going to be able to hold up against Arnold Schwarzenegger. The cinematic god of carnage and quips leaves in his wake a shadow so colossal - in this case, in the jungles of Guatemala circa 1987 - that no remake, sequel or (our new favorite word) "reboot" can possibly escape it.

(Well, unless they remade The Running Man. Or Raw Deal. Or End of Days. And, phew, at least he never made a Batman movie or a third Terminator.)

Anyway, point being: we can't sit here and compare Predators to John McTiernan's superior original Predator. It would be a lost cause anyway, but this movie's flaws have little to do with what the original did right (or wrong). Both movies are set in the jungle, both involve mercenaries fighting Predators, and both use camouflaging mud as a plot device. Other than that, they're different movies.

Instead of Central America, we find ourselves on another planet that seemingly doubles as a game preserve/testing ground, with humans as the hunted. Teams of mismatched killers are dropped by parachute, quite against their will, into the middle of the jungle with nothing but their automatic weapons, their guts, their streetwise savvy and their testosterone.

In this corner, we've got the isolationist loner, Royce (Adrien Brody), an ex-military man-turned-mercenary; Isabelle (Alice Braga), an IDF sniper; Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Yakuza hitman; Stans (Walton Goggins), a redneck death-row inmate; Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a former African soldier for the Revolutionary United Front; Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), a Russian commando; and Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), an enforcer for a Mexican drug cartel. Basically, the Predators have hit the multicultural jackpot. All they need is the Native American tracker from the original Predator and they'd be all set.

Oh, and there's also Edwin (Topher Grace), a snarky young doctor who seems all-too-conspicuously out of place among a unit of highly-trained killers - a fact that almost no one seems to notice or care about. (Will he turn out to be, in fact, just as dangerous a killer as the rest of them?? I'll never tell!)

Everyone soon discovers what Dutch and his ragtag team of soldiers discovered back in Guatemala 23 years ago - that they're being hunted by an alien race of exceptionally trained and technologically advanced hunters.

The movie's treatment of the humans-vs.-Predators conflict isn't the problem. The film has some effective action sequences and clever set-ups that heighten the characters' increasingly distorted sense of equilibrium. The liberal quoting of the original film's musical score is a nice touch, too.

But Predators doesn't quite know what to do with its characters - even the most interesting ones. No, especially the most interesting ones. When you've got this many characters in a movie for which action and suspense - not character dynamics - are the primary objective, it's an easy problem to run into. Predator solved this problem by killing off the bulk of its cast quickly, leaving only Arnold and the Predator for the last 45 minutes.

The problem here is that the characters that should be the most interesting end up being the most undercooked. The first is the Topher Grace character, whose presence is used to explore the idea that these people are all, in their own ways, every bit as predatory as the Predators themselves. I say "used" lightly because that element never really gets examined until near the end, and by then it just seems perfunctory.

The second pivotal role is introduced halfway through the movie in the form of Laurence Fishburne, as Nolan, a man who has been surviving on this planet for years on his own. The character (not to mention Fishburne) is completely wasted, introduced into the movie only to be promptly removed from it. Had Predators simply had enough confidence in its own characters to follow their lead, this may have been an impressive action film. Instead, it seems sloppy and unmotivated.

Given my high praise for Schwarzenegger's glorious gifts in my introduction, I would like to single out Adrien Brody for his work in Predators. Many doubted his ability to jump into a movie like this and play the Action Hero, but he pulls it off with grit and seriousness. Seeing an actor like him take the central role in a franchise that once required Arnold as its centerpiece makes for an interesting case study.

In 1987, the idea of the American action star was the musclebound specimen like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme. Even the less muscular ones (i.e. Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson) oozed "tough guy." These days, that's no longer the case. The everyman is our action hero today. Just look at our most successful current action stars - Nicolas Cage. Matt Damon. Keanu Reeves. Will Smith. Robert Downey Jr. And, let's face it, Angelina Jolie.

They don't exactly fit the old profile. Even our James Bond looks like a normal guy. Brody proves here - like James McAvoy did in Wanted - that he's every bit as capable of joining that company. In the 21st Century, he can be an action star. And a good one, too.

(That said, here's hoping the upcoming '80s throwback The Expendables is everything we would have wanted 25 years ago.)

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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