Saturday, September 15, 2018

Us Versus Alien: THE PREDATOR

The Predator is a movie of ridiculous cornball machismo, dirty wisecracks, exuberantly gory violence, and the familiar visual trappings of a dusty sci-fi franchise in a screenplay meant only to move its stereotype characters through scenes edited to within an inch of their life for a pace cut to the bone. I suppose that’s a success. It’s the sort of movie where one guy can get speared on a branch and his buddy gets his guts blown out and then they look sagely at one another in grisly understanding as they point their weapons at each other’s heads, their eyes saying, it's been an honor fighting this alien with you, my man. I guess you end up there when your opening scene has a dead man hanging upside down and cut in half, trickling blood revealing an invisible creature beneath. It's nasty like that, but awfully breezy, too. Writer-director Shane Black has been one of our more consistent practitioners of this sort of thing, even if this one’s toward the lower rung of his films (way under his last, a hugely entertaining screwball 70's buddy detective movie The Nice Guys). Here he builds an homage to 80’s action, a tip of the hat to his Hollywood origins writing Lethal Weapon and acting in the 1987 original Predator. That movie was a fairly straightforward Schwarzenegger-fights-an-alien-hunter picture. This one’s a tough-guys-on-a-mission, secret-government-laboratory, moppet-in-danger picture, an 80's throwback in inspiration if not style. It somewhat productively crossbreeds a modern franchise sensibility with the old property's eccentricity. Boyd Holbrook is a covert ops sniper who has a close encounter with a Predator. Jacob Tremblay is his estranged middle-schooler son who is unknowingly harboring alien tech. Sterling K. Brown is the military researcher chewing over his gleefully transparent villainy who wants to shut the witness up. Olivia Munn is the civilian scientist (and one of the two (marginalized) women in the cast) who wants to get to the bottom of this, even questioning why it's called a Predator and not a Hunter. And Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, and assorted others are a quipping band of misfits who will become fast friends as they run through the woods and suburbs and whatnots killing or being killed by the eponymous extraterrestrial. The plot is exactly that simple, motivation and personality whittled down quite literally to easily exploited ticks and trinkets — one guy has Tourette’s, another smokes, the kid has autism, Brown chews gum — and gaps in the hurried plot are filled in only if you’ve seen a movie like this before. Yeah, yeah, Black seems to be saying, you know how a scurry-around, bad-dad, scared-son, government-conspiracy, alien-gore shoot-‘em-up goes. He doesn’t feel the need to draw the lines between all the dots for you. Blink and you’ll miss the connective tissue. It’s all about setting up enough reason to show off gun parts sliding and clicking, heavy cars accelerating, helicopter blades whirring, spaceships beeping and clanking, Predators growling and slashing, bullets rattling, character actors shouting, creature effects oozing and barking, and explosions set off like fireworks going ka-buh-buh-boom! Hey, it’s diverting enough if that’s all you want, and certainly not the worst Predator movie out there.

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