If there’s one thing I’d like readers to learn from my film reviews, it’s that quality is quality, no matter when the subject of debate was created. This would perhaps be my best compliment for the little sci-fi action film that could: Predator (1987).
This film was right in the middle of Schwarzenegger’s final flex to cement himself as Hollywood gold (for better or worse) and it marked a very successful blending of genres, giving it about a foot’s worth more depth than, say, Hercules in New York (1969). Sure, Predator fulfilled the token quotas of muscles and mayhem, but the way the movie was structured as two completely different films being stitched in the center like Frankenstein’s monster really made this an interesting watch.
The first half of the movie is strictly action, shoot ‘em up, fun complete with one-line zingers: “Stick around!” The second half of the movie is a stalker/thriller, laced with suspense and stealth. Very few films in history even attempt such a drastic shift in tempo at all, let alone directly in the middle of the film’s second act. Fewer still have done so successfully. By now, the reader may notice a faint aroma of red herring in the air. “Isn’t this a review of the Robert Rodriguez produced Predators film of 2010?” the reader may be asking. “Dear God!” I cry out, waking myself from a sweaty night terror. “This is supposed to be about Predators and not Predator. I just wish someone had told Robert Rodriguez.”
Predators is a film that could not stand alone even if it had four crutches and an anti-gravity hovering device. It is completely shameless about every reference to the original and is, without question, another fine example of unmitigated Hollywood idiocy when trying to re-apply (or in this case directly plagiarize) original success. Perhaps it was Mr. Robert Rodriguez’s intent to make a “proper” sequel to the original film and he deemed John and Jim Thomas (the originators of the Predator, by the way) as unworthy due to the bastardizing of their own intellectual property via Predator 2 and both AvP’s.
Robert was so deeply concerned with maintaining his street-cred as general cool dude, solid director and Hollywood alpha personality that he tapped the unknown and inexperienced to write the script: Michael Finch and Alex Litvak. If you ask a first grader to write you an essay about George Washington, don’t be surprised to read sentence structure that is eerily similar to that of Encyclopedia Britannica. Now I’m not going to completely out Finch and Litvak as inept novices who had absolutely no confidence to conceive something original with such an intimidating franchise that they were totally justified in periodic word-for-word script copies from the Thomas boys’ original draft from 1987. I repeat: I am not going to do that. I will, however, place the responsibility of this fiasco on the shoulders of Robert Rodriguez, and by God he should have known better! Yeah, yeah, I know he made his real money with the Spy Kids franchise, but he also did Desperado (1995) and that film just kicked ass.
What’s that? Is that the reader pointing out to me that Rodriguez was merely one of five producers on Predators and that I should be more concerned with the role of the director in a film perceived as yet another fetal corpse? Very well, let’s take a look at Nimród (pronounced “Neemrode”) Antal’s body of work and see if we can deduce some kind of pattern of success. Well, his body of work amounts to the brilliance of featuring Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson in the horror/thriller Vacancy (2007) and the no-no of featuring Matt Dillon in anything for Armored (2009). This is not very compelling evidence of success, but certainly strong evidence to support budgetary frugality. Novice directors (like novice writers) demand far less salary and like everything else, one gets what one pays for. And at the end of the day, this was the real culprit for this particular production.
Special effects-driven action films of the summer net $50 to $100 million at the box office without breaking a sweat. Therefore, a budget of $40 million is a very sound investment and a slap in the face to the paying audience. (Thank God I used my free Regal Cinemas pass on this one!) The Aliens and Predator franchises amount to Hollywood’s go-to, IP versions of Tina Turner: to be willfully abused at leisure. So be forewarned, readers, I guarantee the already green-lit sequel to Predators will be just as terrible, if not more so.
In regards to the cast’s performance, the best I could say is that it was forgettable with the exception of Adrian Brody who for some reason I continue to like more and more with every film I see him in. I am not an Adrian Brody fan and truly felt he was a complete miscast for this type of film. He proved me wrong once again through his dedication to the role and how well he sold his performance on the screen. It’s kind of easy to conceal a scrawny runt with layers of military garb and weaponry to produce the illusion of “badass” in movies. When he takes his shirt off for the film’s climactic battle, he reveals very non-cg abs and muscle tone and I must give the man serious respect for transforming his body to such a degree in a film he more than likely got paid peanuts for. Add to the fact that he compels the audience to care about a cut-throat merc who could care less for every other character in his same predicament, makes him golden in my book.
And speaking of peanuts, I can say the very same about Laurence Fishburne’s performance; he made an effort to pack away an extra Big Mac or two per day in preparation for this role. I still do not understand why Topher Grace continues to have a Hollywood career. Maybe Danny Trejo can show us more than action film cannon fodder in his upcoming collaboration with Robert Rodriguez in Machete. The rest of the cast is mere body count for the Predators.
I must admit that seeing the Predators cloak and de-cloak never gets old so there were some nice things happening in the special effects department. I was surprised to see Ubisoft Digital Arts to step outside their comfort zone of video game success with the Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed franchises. They did an excellent job for Predators. I just wish their unique weapons were featured more beyond their shoulder blasters and wrist blades. For an evolved alien race capable of interstellar travel known for their hunting prowess and technological superiority, these guys sure like to get into fist fights with humans an awful lot. But that, my friends, goes back to the whole writing impotence thing I described earlier.
Predators is a film that represents big potential and big disappointment. It comes about two centimeters short of an outright reboot due to the shameless script rips from 1987. Off the top of my head, these were direct copies: 1) “What the f*ck are you?” 2) “Come on, kill me!” 3) Jesse Ventura’s mini gun 4) Guy takes off shirt, unsheathes sword to buy time for others to escape 5) Booby traps made of wood spikes and heavy logs 6) The same orchestral score 7) The song, Long Tall Sally. The plot of this film was uninspired, the direction was aimless, the dialogue was hopeless and the action has all been done before. This film fades faster than the Predators’ stealth camouflage.
Did I mention how grateful I was to actually not hand over dollars of any sort to see this movie?