Jul 9, 2010

Film Review: Predators

DIR: Nimrod Antal
CAST: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace,
Laurence Fishburne, Oleg Taktarov, Walton Goggins

This third Predator film has been a long time coming, and rather than a sequel it feels, as is the prevailing trend, more like a reboot of the franchise, which has lain dormant, at least in its own right, for 20 years. Predators - the basic story for which was written more than ten years ago by producer Robert Rodriguez - takes the franchise right back to basics, while also managing to continue from a few ideas set up at the end of the second film.

The film is extremely light on fat; so much so that it opens by literally dropping us, and main character Royce (Brody) into the action. There are pluses and minuses to this. On the plus side it means that the setup is minimal; we’re straight into the jungle, and the tension of the hunt (as well as that of the characters trying to figure out where they are and why) begins immediately. Of course there’s a flipside to this, and that’s that character development is even more brief and perfunctory than it was in the original film. The nine man strong group that begins the film is so sketchily drawn that you couldn’t really call any one of them a character. The two that come closest to having some semblance of personality are Brody’s Royce (a loner mercenary, with a casual attitude to this improvised team and to collateral damage) and Alice Braga’s Isabelle (an Israeli army sniper; deadly, sexy, but also a little soft hearted - at least in terms of this movie). Bar Topher Grace (whose character I won’t get into) the rest are all very one note; among others there’s the silent yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien), the redneck death row inmate (Walton Goggins, who has one incredibly offensive joke), the black guy (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), the Russian who want to get back to his family (Taktarov), oh, and Danny Trejo (Danny Trejo).

It’s probably a blessing that the character beats are minimal though, because in the extended mid-movie interlude with (a very doughy) Laurence Fishburne the dialogue is poor (to say nothing of generic) and for the first time the movie plods a little.

Predators follows the familiar beats of an action/horror movie. For the first 40 minutes it thrives on tension, on the characters trying to figure out what’s going on and on the audience’s implicit knowledge that violence IS coming. The film’s final hour brings that violence, and most of the action is pretty well done, even if it’s not terribly original. The action, like the rest of this film, has pros and cons. Happily the editing and camerawork are relatively restrained, meaning that the action is at least intelligible, and you’re generally aware of the geography of scenes. The trade off is that a lot of the action takes place in darkness, and particularly in the film’s final set piece there’s sometimes an irritating strain to make out all the detail in the sequence. Another, perhaps unexpected upside to the action is the fact that Brody, with his taciturn performance and surprisingly well-sculpted abs, makes for a pretty solid hero. He’s no Arnie, clearly, but come the final fight he’s robust and convincing.

Perhaps the very best things in the film are the predators themselves. Rather than going all CG Predators leans heavily on men in suits to portray its monsters. It makes all the difference in the world. Instead of formless graphics the cast get to interact with a real physical presence. This improves the action, gives physical weight to the monsters, which really helps when you’re supposed to buy them as a threat, and aids the performances by giving the cast something to play off. CGI has its place, (and aside from an appalling fire shot, it’s quite well used here) but there things it can’t do and this old school approach really pays off for Predators.

On the whole Predators is a pretty average film. It’s not so much fun as the 1987 original, and it’s got all the depth of a puddle in a heatwave. That said, it is enjoyable, the pace seldom slackens and Adrien Brody and Alice Braga, at least, keep their characters engaging. Frankly, in a summer that has already served up A Nightmare on Elm Street and Death at a Funeral, and is poised to unleash such presumed atrocities as The Last Airbender and Vampires Suck, you could do a lot worse than Predators.

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