Friday, July 9, 2010

Hey, Hey, Come Out & Prey (Keep 'em Separated)

Film Review - PREDATORS (2010)
Screenplay by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch
Based on characters by Jim Thomas and John Thomas
Directed by Nimrod Antal


If Predators was a Marvel Comic circa 1977, it would come embossed with a yellow hype balloon on its cover, shouting "Trapped in a world they never made!" Indeed, it's best when enjoying Predators -- and I did enjoy Predators -- to keep expectations about at the level of a good classic page-turner of a four-color pulp. There's much about the project that feels comfortably old-fashioned, from its steady but insistent tempo to its John Williams-influenced score. Save for the advancements in special effects, it plays like a last gasp of the 80s, and a worthy successor to the 1987 franchise-launcher.

Talk about starting a movie in mid-action; we are plunged into the story along with protagonist Adrien Brody, plucked from the battlefield and catapulted across space to land with a thump in an overgrown jungle of unearthly mien. Before he has time to ask how, when and where, he's joined by a septet of diverse warriors and assassins, including Alice Braga, Danny Trejo and - incongruously - Topher Grace, a physician who seems planted there to serve as either a millstone or bait. Owing a sizable debt to Frederic Brown and his SF classic "Arena" (also the basis for a classic episode of Star Trek), they soon deduce that they are on an extraterrestrial game preserve, there for the hunting -- and if you don't know who the hunters are, you didn't look at the poster on your way into the theater. They are culled from the best (worst?) that Planet Earth has to offer when it comes to lethal ability; from Yakuza to serial killer to Special Ops, each one knows how to kill you before you ever see the blade. And the Predators, those heat-visioned translucent wraiths equally adept in the ways of murder, and sporting their spiny, fangy take on a bloodhound, are there to study and learn.

When it comes to ensemble casts in action films, I have lowered my expectations over the years, and find myself perfectly satisfied if both screenplay and performances collude just enough to enable me to tell the characters apart, and on that limited level, Predators succeeds. The script gives you just enough hints at each killer's background, and the actors flesh out the rest. In the case of Brody, he's really fleshed out, as his newly-honed physique brings some appreciative murmurs from the audience, but to me, his torso was lit to appear like a body-cast. In the climax, he looks waxy and prefabricated, as though an Exacto knife could carve a divot out of his chest. The body he sported earlier this year in Splice would have been adequate and quite believable for what he's required to do here. (It says something that so much ink has been spilled over his makeover, but this really isn't the kind of film where you ponder the intricacy of his inner monologue, if you catch what I'm throwing down.)

My vote for Predators' MVP goes to director Antal, prior helmer of Armored and Vacancy (for his next film title, can't we at least gift him with a definite article?), who has a clean and direct style, far removed from the School of Michael Bay. I found myself marveling at the pace, which was deliberate enough to allow us the sense of discovery shared by the actors, but also aware of just when to pop the clutch and floor it. This above all else made the movie a welcome anachronism for me; not only does it exist in the time before video games, but it even appears untouched by the MTV video revolution of quick cuts and attention-deficit editing. Some may find it a tad soporific, but for me it felt just right.

Predators is one of the few movies not playing in 3D at my local theater - and I can't believe I'm saying this, given my revulsion over the format - it's one that I could see logically benefiting from the process. The joys of the movie are all rooted in immersion, that old SF trope of being beamed into an alien world, and catching up on the details as you go along...if you live that long. Add the Agatha Christie motif of not knowing who is going to buy the farm next, as well as some character reversals and a special guest star who may not be all that he seems (or even all there), and you have in Predators something that has been conspicuous in its absence from the Summer of 2010; a genuine popcorn B-movie, and about as filling. On a humid July night when it's impossible to inhale without ingesting a lungful of mosquitoes, Predators produces.

(Now, if this was a Marvel Comic, I would have to stake my claim for a No-Prize -- that is, an apparent error in continuity that I would then solve to the eventual delight of Stan Lee. Here goes...Why does one character immediately recognize a poisonous flower on what is ultimately revealed to be an alien world? OK, in an effort to make the jungle as acceptable an environment as possible to the humans, the Predators also transported indigenous flora, including a flower that was, like both humans and aliens, a predator itself. Cool, huh? 20th Century Fox, I shall be expecting my No-Prize in the customary No-Envelope. And you're welcome.)

4 comments:

Planet of Terror said...

I can't wait to see this. Sounds like a lot of fun.

And am I right in saying that Michelle Rodriguez is also in this?

zenski said...

No Michelle, PoT. Maybe you're thinking that she has the Alice Braga role? As to the guest star, I wasn't paying as close of attention to the lead-up to the movie, so it caught me by surprise, but you might be anticipating it all along. Still fun when it happens, though!

Pax Romano said...

Best movie review EVER!!!! I might even go see this one based on your review. Bravo!!!

zenski said...

Thank you, my friend!