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TBTS Reviews: Predators

July 20, 2010

For YARM-happy Hollywood, I propose a new rule.  If you are going to remake, redo, reboot, sequel, or prequel a beloved movie (yes, I used those last two as verbs), you must do one of two things:

  1. Take it in a different direction and add to the canon while staying true to the original material.  Yes, this is a tall order and a little ambiguous, but you’re messing around with a cultural cornerstone so you’d better not screw it up.  The new Star Trek succeeded; Star Wars: The Phantom Menace failed.
  2. Extract the most important elements of the original and inject them into the new film, tweaking the plot details and characters just slightly so that you’re not making exactly the same movie.

(Note: to avoid this admittedly restrictive scenario, Hollywood, you could actually make some movies based on new ideas.  Read Tomlin’s spot-on critique for more good commentary.)

Predators follows Rule #2.  It essentially recreates the last half of Predator, on a different planet but not really in a different setting.  (You’ll know what I mean when you watch it.)  There’s no real mystery: we know what the Predators are and why they do what they do.  The only questions specific to this movie are answered pretty quickly except one: what Topher Grace’s character, the doctor, is doing with a gang of criminals and mercenaries.  The script drops clues throughout, but you’d have to be clueless not to hit around the bullseye—if not head-on—pretty early.  The uncreative camerawork tells the story as simply as possible.  Several characters in this movie mirror ones in the original, in function if not in stature.

Most viewers will see right away that Predators is an homage to Predator.  This is the only way that another Predator movie could have been made, though, especially after the two dismal AvP installments.  It had to retain the straightforward sci-fi action of the first two, but couldn’t outright copy Schwarzenegger-Ventura-Weathers-Lanham-Duke-et-al muscle-magazine line-up without the new actors coming across as cheap knock-offs.  Thus, Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Danny Trejo, and the rest.  Thus, also, the obvious tributes, from nearly shot-for-shot recreations and recycled dialog to similar characters, plot devices, and sound editing.  This is not a bad thing.  In fact, it will probably merit repeat viewings, on DVD at least, to try to spot all the parallels, ranging from sly winks to the film’s progenitor to outright pilfering.  (I have discovered that just the sound of a mini-gun makes me happy.)  Predators had to be exactly this to succeed, and it did.

The movie’s glaring weak point is Laurence Fishburne’s character Noland, not Laurence Fishburne.  Some reviews are calling this his worst role ever.  While that’s arguable, I can’t blame him.  Noland exists only for exposition that could have been provided elsewhere, and to allow the other characters a little rest.  His major idiosyncrasy is pretty ridiculous, but was almost certainly not Fishburne’s doing.  He didn’t do much with what he was given, but to be fair, he wasn’t given much of a chance.  That part of the movie makes for a good bathroom break, though.  The other annoying element that comes to mind is Brody’s low, gravelly-voiced, Christian-Bale-in-The-Dark-Knight delivery.  In a movie that can’t afford subtlety, though, this may have been the only way, to portray a hard-edged, deadly exterior hiding a reluctant conscience.

While he certainly can’t fill the shoes of absurdly muscled covert ops maverick Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brody does what he is supposed to do.  The rest of the cast does the same, aided by a director, producer, and writers who understood what kind of movie they needed to make.   I wrote earlier about my fear that Predators would stumble down the same series-killing alley as Terminator Salvation.  However, whereas Terminator Salvation got jumped, beaten with tire irons, and left for dead, Predators ran straight through and emerged safely on the other side.

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