Prey and Prejudice
“I woke up in freefall,” Adrien Brody gripes as Predators opens. He’s not lying: Our introduction to this world comes as his does, when he opens his eyes to find himself plummeting from space toward the surface of an alien planet, the parachute on his back not yet open, with no certain indication that it will open. (It does, of course, or else he wouldn’t be around to complain later about this appalling treatment.)
It’s sort of an astonishing moment, not quite like anything we’ve seen before onscreen, and for just that moment, I had hope: Was, perhaps, Hungarian-American filmmaker Nimród Antal about to give us a film to match the verve and audacity of his 2003 debut, Kontroll, which is — no kidding — an action movie about gangs of ticket takers on the Budapest subway? Alas, it was not to be: Almost immediately after Brody’s landing planetside, Predators sets itself up as a Xerox copy of the 1987 original, Predator, in which the Arnold Schwarzenegger-led team of Special Forces badasses get picked off one by one by a visiting alien badass warrior in the jungles of Guatemala. It’s competently executed, but someone forgot to ask what the point of the whole endeavor was, beyond, perhaps establishing Adrien Brody’s action creds, in case that Oscar for The Pianist starts holding him back from getting good work.
Here, the human badasses — there’s a bunch more of them who’ve been tossed from orbit along with Brody (Splice, Fantastic Mr. Fox) — have been imported by the badass alien warriors onto a sort of planetwide game preserve, so the badass alien warriors can hunt them for sport, but it’s pretty much the same movie we saw back in 1987. It’s much better than the more recent Alien vs. Predator, but that wasn’t hard to do; it’s not much better than a cheesy Syfy Original film: the cast is more appealing, for the most part, and the director is more talented, but Predators has just as little to say as whatever made-for-cable crap will turn up on TV this weekend. There is a modicum of mystery surrounding Brody’s character, who refuses to reveal his name or what kind of badass he is. Is he a soldier? A criminal? There is a modicum of mystery to be had in wondering which of the humans will die first: Will it be the death-row convict (Walton Goggins: Miracle at St. Anna, The World’s Fastest Indian)? Will it be the drug cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo: Battle for Terra, Planet Terror)? Will it be the Russian army guy (Oleg Taktarov: Righteous Kill, Miami Vice)? Will it be the Yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien)? Will it be the practicioner of African war atrocities (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)? Will it be the meek doctor (Topher Grace: Valentine’s Day, Spider-Man 3) who seems to have gotten caught up in the game by mistake? Surely it won’t be the badass chick (Alice Braga: Repo Man, Blindness), because then the movie would be all out of chicks…
Problem is, we don’t much care about any of these people. The movie mostly doesn’t even bother to expand on their general awfulness as human beings, just lets their jobs speak for them. The only one newbie screenwriters Alex Litvak and Michael Finch deign to give the slightest bit of, you know, character to is the convict, and then only by having him spout a “joke” about how many “bitches” he’s going to “rape” when he gets home, which is just… ewww.
Mostly, it’s like a big episode of The Twilight Zone — humans are the prey! — with lots of gunplay and lots of DayGlo gore. (The aliens bleed neon green. It’s actually even less interesting than that.) We don’t even get a mini nuke like we did at the end of Predator. *yawn*