One comes to a Shane Black film with high hopes. They are not always rewarded, but when he comes through with films like KISS KISS BANG BANG, or the criminally underappreciated THE GOOD GUYS, the results are quirky, clever, and delightfully original. If you haven’t seen them, choose either, or both, instead of THE PREDATOR. If you have, and still proceed with PREDATOR, you will find resonances of what made those two other films so great. You will, though, still have sat through a perfectly dreadful film.
Obviously designed to reinvigorate the franchise, it wastes no time in plunging us into mayhem. The time/space continuum rips apart and another member from the eponymous alien race of super-hunters crashes to Earth. Mexico, to be specific, where a rescue team of crack Army Rangers, led by crack sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), are taking bets on whether or not a hostage is still alive. The bet, and the hostage’s fate, soon become moot as our Predator begins his/her killing spree and Quinn takes a few souvenirs. This being the sort of flick where nothing makes sense, he tries on the alien doo-dads before shipping them back to the United States. Why is he doing this? To prove that he saw aliens. If only he’d known that he would have no problem proving that to his government, which shortly arrives in the mint-popping person of Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), an agent who knows all about the Predator menace, but still manages to crack jokes. Mean jokes, but still.
From here it’s all a muddle of a script that seems to have been constructed from the cinematic equivalent of baling wire and chewing gum. The cut-rate, generic chewing gum. The kind that doesn’t really hold its snap. In a series of vignettes rather than cohesive story, we visit the secret government agency tasked to study Predators, courtesy of evolutionary biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (a game Olivia Munn) being swept up by that agency with such suddenness that she is forced to leave her spaniel mid-walk. Imagine her surprise to discover that aliens are real. Imagine an audience sitting through that stale trope.
Alas, I didn’t have to.
Other vignettes includes Quinn being declared mentally ill and put on a bus with a lively crew of his putative peers (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen, Thomas Jane, Augusto Aguilera), while back home his estranged wife (Yvonne Strahovski) and Asperger’s Syndrome son, Rory (a suitably doughty Jacob Tremblay) are ready to celebrate Halloween only to have the world’s best costume arrive via a postal mishap. Sure, it gives Rory’s bullies pause, and it does give the film’s pyrotechnics crew a chance to show off, but Rory walking away from the inferno as everyone else goes about their non-plussed trick-or-treating business?
If only that were the silliest part.
This is an opus that begins with a middle school bulletin board welcoming parents and STDS, and moves on to the Twinkie Theory of why the Predators are visiting more often. The adorable comic relief of Quinn’s new-found buddies (Jane as a Tourette’s patient, and Key as his elegantly scarved, high-strung best friend steal the show) is swamped by the laughable awfulness of the rest of the movie. Alien invasion clichés run riot through the action, and there are so many dismemberments that any surprise they might have engendered is lost in a yawn of irritated anticipation. The action is as random as the messages are mixed, though one did enjoy a handcuffed Munn taking out an evil government agent with the help of a space dog. Seriously. One wondered, though, about the decision to put dreads on the Predators and their dogs. It’s not the dreads, per se, but the way they evoke John Travolta and Forest Whitaker in BATTLEFIELD EARTH.
As a comedy, THE PREDATOR is an abject failure. As an action film, it’s practically inert. As an homage to the original, it’s an insult (Jake Busey cameo nothwithstanding). On the other hand, there are two things that PREDATOR gets right. One, that the Asperger Syndrome is probably the next step in intellectual evolution, and that the definition of the word “predator” doesn’t fit what the alien Predator actually does. Thank you. That has annoyed me since the original.