Movie review by Greg Carlson

Produced by Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimrod Antal, “Predators” slaps together Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” and Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” resulting in a hasty assemblage of so many genre tropes, viewers will swear they’ve already seen this somewhere. Although not without small doses of comic relief, “Predators” is bleak, grim, and serious, straining to maintain an air of cool toughness even when the saga’s B-movie origins might otherwise suggest guiding the tone in the direction of camp. Only a batty, “Apocalypse Now”-referencing cameo appearance by Laurence Fishburne keeps interest in the standard issue story from waning.

The movie opens with semi-conscious mercenary Royce (Adrien Brody) tumbling through the sky toward an alien planet. The ex-black ops ruffian opens his parachute without a second to spare, and soon meets seven other killers with equally impeccable badass credentials. An Israeli sniper (Alice Braga), a wired-up death row serial murderer (Walton Goggins), a Mexican drug cartel assassin (Danny Trejo), a hulking Russian commando (Oleg Taktarov), a mostly silent yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien), and a Sierra Leone death squad rebel (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) round out the rogues’ gallery. Topher Grace’s meek and unassuming doctor doesn’t appear to fit the profile, however, which should be the first clue that he is hiding something.

The surly fire-eaters surmise that they have been kidnapped to a kind of interstellar game reserve, and are now the quarry of a breed of gifted super-hunters. Shortly thereafter, in one of the movie’s only substantial additions to “Predator” lore, custom, and zoology, a pack of hound-like quadrupeds (with more than a passing resemblance to some of the inhabitants of Pandora in “Avatar”) descends on the humans. Once the pursuit is underway, many viewers will determine that the only real fun is guessing the order in which the characters will be dispatched. It is no spoiler to say that Adrien Brody’s character manages to hang around.

Antal reestablishes the key ingredients of the Predator mythology introduced in the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger adventure, from the clever point-of-view thermal imaging to the rippling invisibility cloaking effect that hides the dreadlocked beasties from human view. Stan Winston’s original creature designs are left intact, despite variations identified as “Tracker Predator,” “Falconer Predator” and “Berzerker [sic] Predator.” Mirroring a plot point established in “Alien vs. Predator,” an uneasy quid pro quo is forged between certain representatives of each species, although the result rockets quickly toward an action-focused resolution rather than any exploration of what makes the Predators tick.

Underneath the buckets of blood, “Predators” alludes to the unsettling thought that some humans learn to enjoy preying on people. Each of the selected participants of the gory game comes to realize that her or his inclusion has been predicated on a ghoulish aptitude for mayhem, and for a fleeting moment the stock players almost engage in a contemplative exchange. The screenplay, which rarely strays from gruff recitations of the obvious, fails to explore this idea to any satisfying degree. Whenever subtext challenges action, Antal sets up another running firefight, effectively reminding us that when it comes to the Predator franchise, brawn trumps brain every time.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 7/12/10.

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