CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PREDATORS (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: A forest. Suddenly two screaming bodies fall from the sky and hit the ground hard. Close-up reveals they are MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES.)
MA (checking his body): Thank God. No broken bones.
LS: Damn! What kind of a free-fall ride is this?
MA: Are you hurt bad?
LS: Not at all. Last time I suffered three broken ribs and my shin bone tore through my flesh. This time, nothing. How cheap is that? I might ask for my money back!
MA: You do that. I’m going to begin our review of PREDATORS.
LS: Nah. Seeing you scream like a baby was worth the price of the ticket.
MA: That was called “acting.” I wasn’t really scared.
LS (laughs): And I’ve got a head of hair like Bon Jovi.
MA: And your point would be?
LS (suddenly wearing a huge rock star style wig) What the—-?
MA: Today’s movie, PREDATORS, is not a remake or a “re-imagining” of the 1987 original movie PREDATOR, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s a brand new chapter in the franchise.
The story begins with a bunch of people with parachutes falling from the sky and landing in a strange, unknown forest. There’s Royce (Adrien Brody), a mercenary killer who quickly becomes the leader of the group; Isabelle (Alice Braga), a tough-minded soldier; Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), an enforcer for a drug cartel; Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), a Russian soldier; Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a soldier from Sierra Leone; Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a member of the Japanese Yakuza; Stans (Walton Goggins), an extremely volatile Death Row convict; and Edwin (Topher Grace), a doctor, who seems incredibly out of place in this group.
LS: I especially liked Hanzo and Cuchillo, man. The movie I saw, the coming attractions included a trailer for the upcoming Robert Rodriguez (who also produced PREDATORS) film MACHETE, starring Danny Trejo —remember when that was a fake trailer for GRINDHOUSE (2007)? — well now it’s going to be a real movie! Not only do I love this guy as an actor, I hope MACHETE makes him a star. But he’s not in PREDATORS long enough.
MA: Yeah, Danny Trejo seems to be a Robert Rodriguez favorite. I remember him way back in FROM DUSK TO DAWN (1996), that insane vampire flick which Rodriguez directed, starring George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino! And he appeared in Rodriguez’s popular kids’ movie franchise, the SPY KIDS trilogy in the early 2000s, playing a character named— you got it, Uncle Machete.
LS: Gotta love Uncle Machete, man!
MA: I agree with you. He’s not in PREDATORS enough.
LS: The same for Walt Goggins. I love this guy. He was great as Shane in one of my favorite TV shows ever, THE SHIELD. But he was also good in Rob Zombie’s debut HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003), as well as the brand new FX TV show JUSTIFIED. I’m always happy to see him, and this movie was no exception, although I have to admit, it was hard to see his character – who claims to be a murderer and a rapist – as anything more than comic relief.
But you’re right, the intro is great. The movie starts off really screwed up, with each character falling from the sky and then thinking they’re all enemies – it’s like an acid trip, man.
MA: They quickly deduce that they have been chosen because they are hunters, and they have been placed here in this forest, because they are in the middle of a game preserve, and THEY are the game. When they reach a clearing and see a very strange-looking sky, they realize they are on an alien planet.
Royce believes that in order for them to survive, they need to know who is hunting them, and so he leads the group in search of the hunters. Of course, they discover the hunters are the Predators from the PREDATOR franchise. There are actually two types of Predators in this movie, the classic type from the original franchise, and a newer more powerful Predator, a race that seems to be running this particular planet, as they keep the classic Predators captive. The two kinds of Predators are mortal enemies.
LS: Another interesting point. We find out that while the original “classic” Predators can travel alone, these new, bigger Predators always hunt in packs of threes – a point that will be important as the movie unfolds.
MA: Royce and his merry band of soldiers later meet Noland (Laurence Fishburne), a half-crazed survivor from an earlier hunt— half-crazed because he’s been surviving alone on the planet for 10 “seasons” now! Noland tells Royce that the Predators have a ship which they use to go to and from the planet, and Royce makes it his plan to commandeer the spaceship to get back to Earth.
LS: Fishburne is good, but he’s in this movie way too briefly. I wish he’d actually thrown his lot in with Brody’s gang and used his know-how to help them out. And for a guy who’s somehow been able to stay alive for 10 years on this planet, he sure makes some bonehead moves in this movie. It’s like, once he meets Adrien Brody and his gang, Fishburne turns stupid.
MA: The hunt is on, as the Predators set their sights on the humans, while Royce and company set their sights on the escape ship.
PREDATORS is a movie that I had zero expectations for. I thought– do we really need ANOTHER Predator movie? – but, I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by this one, and I ended up liking it a lot.
LS: Me, too. I was kind of bummed out I had to see this one. But man, what a surprise. Not only did I like it, I thought it was easily the best PREDATOR movie ever!
MA: You know, I hadn’t thought about it that way, but now that you mention it, I would have to agree. It is the best one in the series.
(An ALIEN jumps down from a tree branch, gesticulating angrily at them.)
MA: I’m sorry. Your two bouts with the Predators were OK, but they weren’t as good as this movie.
LS (to ALIEN): You gotta tell the folks making your movies to stop using all that CGI. It’s making you look like a cartoon, and that’s not scary.
(ALIEN walks away with drooping shoulders.)
MA: Although its brief pre-credit sequence showing Adrien Brody simply falling from the sky without anything else happening was silly and nondescript, after the credits, the movie quickly introduces its characters and gets its story moving without delay. I was into this movie within the first 10 minutes. It hooked me right away.
LS: Hey, I thought you liked the “falling from the sky” intro. I know I sure did. I was grooving to this movie from the minute it started. I loved that things weren’t explained right away, and we had to figure things out at the same pace as the characters did.
MA: Well, yeah, that part I liked. The uncertainty of everything at the beginning, that feeling of “what the hell is going on?” really grabs you.
Things are helped, of course, by some fine acting.
Let’s start with Adrien Brody. He’s one of the reasons I was a bit skeptical about this movie. I thought, Adrien Brody as the lead of an action-horror movie? He’s no Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I expected him to be sorely miscast. I’ll say it right here. I was completely wrong about him. Not only was Brody excellent in this movie, not only was he believable as a tough, mercenary killer, he delivered one of the best acting performances I’ve seen in a genre film this year. I think it’s because I didn’t really expect him to be able to pull this role off, but he comes off as utterly convincing.
LS: In the past, I didn’t care for Adrien Brody all that much. But he’s totally won me over. Imagine, it took him leaving art films and taking roles in genre flicks for him to really grow on me. But I loved his performance in SPLICE and I really dug him here, too.
Let’s face it, even though the monster was cool in the original PREDATOR, the people were rather cheesy. Schwarzenegger was okay – he still couldn’t act very well at that point, but he knew to keep his talking to a minimum – but the rest of the cast was pretty campy. I mean, Jesse Ventura? He’s a better politician than he was an actor. Watching the 1987 original feels really dated. But this new movie kicks all kinds of ass.
MA: Brody in a genre film is starting to become a regular thing. We saw him earlier this year in SPLICE, but he was also in KING KONG (2005), and he was even in— and I hate to even say the name of this movie— THE VILLAGE (2004). While I liked him a lot in SPLICE, he’s even better here in PREDATORS. I could get used to seeing Brody in horror movies.
LS: I actually thought he was pretty good in THE VILLAGE, and excellent in SPLICE. He just keeps getting better and better.
MA: I also really enjoyed Alice Braga as Isabelle. We saw Braga earlier this year in REPO MEN. I think she delivered a better performance in REPO MEN, as that role was more complicated and challenging, but she’s damned good here, too.
LS: I liked REPO MEN, and Braga is very good here as well.
MA: The rest of the cast was also very good. I especially liked Louis Ozawa Changchien as Hanzo, and Oleg Taktarov as Nikolai, and while Walton Goggins was entertaining as the unpredictable psychopath Stans, I was somewhat disappointed with Topher Grace as Edwin, the doctor. Grace played Venom in SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), and here in PREDATORS, his character is rather bland. Plus, I knew there had to be some reason why a doctor was selected to be part of this group, and when that reason is revealed, I thought it was a letdown, which isn’t Grace’s fault, but given what he had to work with, he didn’t really do a whole lot to raise that character to a higher level.
LS: I don’t care for Grace, and I thought he ruined Venom for the movies (Venom is a so much cooler character in the comics). But the part where Hanzo faces off against a Predator, with just a samurai sword, was easily one of my favorite scenes.
MA: That was an EXC ELLENT scene! As duels go, it was majestic.
Laurence Fishburne makes the most of his brief screen time as Noland, the half-crazed survivor. He could have been in the movie longer, and I wouldn’t have minded.
LS: I like Fishburne a lot, and wished he’d had a bigger presence in the movie.
MA: I liked the way he was always whispering, so as not to attract the Predator’s attention. It was kind of creepy.
LS: And he kept talking to some imaginary friend. It reminded me of my relationship with you!
MA: I imagine I resent that remark, friend!
WHISPERING VOICE FROM WOODS: Over here.
MA: Who said that?
VOICE: You’re too loud. They’ll hear you.
LS: Show yourself, you wimp! What’s the idea of hiding in the woods like a big baby?
MA: Who are you?
VOICE: The wind.
LS: The wind? What is this, THE HAPPENING?
MA (trembling): N-no! First, THE VILLAGE, now THE HAPPENING. There are too many M. Night Shyamalan references. Stop it! STOP IT!
LS (shaking MA): Get a grip on yourself, before I have to hit you upside the head with this machete!
MA: Whoa! Where did that come from?
LS: From the Danny Trejo Fan Club. Are you good to go now?
MA (taking a deep breath): Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks.
I thought the special effects ran hot and cold. The vicious four-legged creatures that attack the group before the Predators enter the scene, were rather fake-looking and obvious CGI creations. The Predators themselves were okay. Sometimes they looked scary and real, and at other times they looked phony. The best looking creature in this one was the classic Predator, the one who was being held prisoner by the newer, stronger Predators. He was scary and horrific looking, and I wish he had been in the movie more.
LS: I thought the alien “dogs” were okay. As for the Predators, I’ve been a fan since day one. I thought the original PREDATOR (1987), was pretty goofy, but the monster kicked ass. And they’ve continued to be terrific visually, through all the ALIEN VS. PREDATOR films, and especially here.
MA: Director Nimrod Antal did a good job here. The action sequences are exciting, and the hunt scenes intense. There were also a few gory touches that made this one as hard-hitting as it needed to be.
LS: He did a great job! He’s also directed a few other interesting films, like KONTROLL (2003) and VACANCY (2007).
MA: Writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch wrote a story that hooked me from the get-go. Even though this was a PREDATOR movie, and everyone in the theater knew that the Predators would be the guys doing the hunting, the story was written in such a way that the first half of the movie, in which we don’t see a whole lot of the Predators, was still compelling and very interesting. I think this was due largely to this being a brand new story. It wasn’t a rehash of the original two movies, or the two recent films that pitted the Predators against the Aliens.
LS: Yeah, the script was super! The pacing is relentless throughout. I really enjoyed it.
MA: There were elements of surprise here. Just where the hell is this forest anyway? Why is there an ordinary doctor among the group of killers? What are those strange four-legged creatures? Why is one Predator being held captive by other, slightly different looking Predators? There was enough happening early on to pique my interest and get me into this movie.
Once Laurence Fishburne’s character appears, I thought the movie leveled off somewhat in terms of surprises. It becomes more of a standard action movie, as the hunt heats up. While this is enjoyable and entertaining, the film does become more routine during its second half.
Still, it doesn’t fall to anything resembling “below average,” and this is because of the strong performance of Adrien Brody. Brody drives the story along, and with the strength of his acting abilities, he carries this movie on his back, and he takes it all the way to a successful finish.
I also really enjoyed the music score by John Debney, the man who did the music for SIN CITY (2005). It reminded me a lot of the score from the original 1987 PREDATOR movie, by Alan Silvestri.
To nitpick, I would have liked some better explanations for a few things. For starters, just how is it that the classic Predator understands what Adrien Brody says to it so easily? Do Predators understand English?
LS: Si, senor!
MA: Just how was it that these people were whisked off Earth and sent here? And just where is HERE?
But these are minor quibbles in a movie as entertaining as this. PREDATORS is the kind of movie where I don’t care if there are minor missing elements to the story, because the story as is works so well.
I thought PREDATORS was one of the more entertaining movies I’ve seen this summer. It’s got great acting, especially from its lead Adrien Brody; it’s got lots of neat action sequences; and it is not boring in the least. It’s well worth the price of admission. I give it 3 knives.
LS: I like the fact that not everything was explained, but just enough was to keep us glued to the screen. PREDATORS3 and a half knives was a big surprise for me, and I really enjoyed it. I’d give it .
MA: So, there you have it. Definitely give yourself a treat this summer. Go out and see PREDATORS.
(PREDATOR appears behind them with a beer in each hand. He hands them to LS and MA).
LS: Gee, thanks!
MA (lifting bottle): Here’s to a kick-ass movie, which should really reinvigorate this franchise. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s another PREDATORS movie in the works in the not too distant future.
LS: Let’s not rush into more sequels, okay?
MA (to PREDATOR): And what do you think about the prospect of starring in more Predator movies? Are you GAME? Oops! Bad choice of words.
(PREDATOR aims his weapon at them.)
LS: Game. You would have to remind him.
MA: He just can’t help himself. He’s addicted to hunting. Well, folks, we’ve got to duel our friend Mr. Predator here. But we’ll be back next week with another review of another new movie.
LS (hands MA a paint ball gun): Ready? (MA nods). Okay, Mr. Predator, the game is on!
(MA and LS take cover in the woods, while the PREDATOR roars.)
WHISPERING VOICE: They went that-a-way.
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives PREDATORS - 3 KNIVES
L.L. Soares gives PREDATORS - 3 1/2 KNIVES