Monday, July 12, 2010

Night of the Hunter: PREDATORS

With Predators, director Nimrod Antal continues his streak of consummate B-movie craftsmanship, following the better-than-you’d-expect Armored, by making his creature feature chill and thrill with efficient, streamlined artistry. Of course, his film is no less silly at its core than its Predator predecessors, but it still manages to work, on average, better. It’s certainly not Antal’s fault that the film ends up not that great. It runs out of stream just when it should be ramping up, but for the majority of its runtime, Predators is just diverting enough.

The film transposes the original’s earthbound alien hunter concept into a more otherworldly setting. It opens with Adrien Brody, as an ex-military mercenary, waking up while plummeting from the sky, wearing a parachute that automatically opens. When he lands, he finds himself joined by other tough figures from around the world. There’s the grizzled Danny Trejo, the tough Alice Braga, the overwhelmed Topher Grace, the slimy Walton Goggins, the gruff Oleg Taktarov,the stoic Louis Ozawa Changchien, and the strong Mahershalalhashbaz Ali. They’re all deadly – well, except for Grace – and they’re all very angry. It soon becomes clear that they’ve been kidnapped and dropped onto an alien planet to be hunted by the Predators. Why does it become clear? Because Adrien Brody’s a really, really good guesser.

For most of the film, the characters dodge traps, shoot at aliens and try to survive. Antal deploys the special effects with a surprising visceral force. The mix of practical and digital effects is very convincing; the images have a heft and danger that is hard to achieve in this age of cheap, easy CGI. When the actors tumble down a hill, avoid falling spikes, or splash over a waterfall, it looks and feels like real people performing physical stunts. This extra spike of old-school danger is enhanced by Antal’s great eye for compositions and ability to hold a shot for longer than modern schlock usually allows.

And the movie’s certainly schlock. The Predator series strikes me as having one of the most limiting concepts of any franchise. I mean, once you’ve seen one ugly alien hunter stalking a group of people, you’ve seen them all. But, it’s to Antal’s credit, and to the credit of screenwriters Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, working from a concept by producer Robert Rodriguez, that this picture moves and thrills as much as it does. It’s convincingly exciting and scary, moving with a slimy speed that zips things along. The movie really works, bringing the low-rent summer fun in mildly satisfying, if often unsurprising, ways.

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