Jeff York

“The Predator” Turns the Franchise into One Hot Mess

“The Predator” Turns the Franchise into One Hot Mess
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Is “The Predator” a sequel or a spoof? At times, it plays so comedically, it feels more like a parody of the original 1987 adventure “Predator.” Whatever the intent, “The Predator” is one hot mess. A summer-type actioner roaring into cineplexes after Labor Day, it’s loud, frenetic, and overstuffed with characters, exposition, and not one, but two predatory aliens this time. It’s fun in a sort of kitchen sink kind of way, but there’s too much plot, too many characters, and too many half-baked ideas for this one to be an effective thriller. It even feels like it was edited to minimize the damage with a running time well under two hours.

As in the original, another predator’s spaceship has landed on earth and is up to no good. The alien onboard ends up interfering with a military hit job on a drug cartel in Mexico and American soldier Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is pissed about it. He steals the alien’s armor after the interloper takes out his men and sends it to his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) in the States for safekeeping. Quinn also steals a cloaking ball from the alien and swallows it to prevent the authorities from getting their hands on it.

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Keegan-Michael Key

His boy is autistic, but a genius tech wiz so Rory manages to decode the technical data found in the control panel of the alien helmet. He discovers that the dreadlocked creature is here to harvest DNA from humans which will enable the alien race to become a super one. That’s an interesting theme, obviously akin to the Nazi’s, but the film doesn’t seem to be interested in exploring any such political ramifications. Instead, this film cuts to the chase, literally and figuratively, by having the alien and the government operatives go after Rory to get ahold of that data-rich souvenirs.

Two aliens are the villains, of course, but the other is a human one. Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), is a “deep state” operative up to no good and we know he’s bad from the get-go because he chews too many pieces of gum at one time. He’s a chomper too, that noisy S.O.B., and we just can’t have that now, can we? Meanwhile, Quinn escapes military prison after being blamed for the botched mission that ended with so many casualties, even though the government is well aware of the fact that it was due to the alien presence on earth. Conveniently, while being escorted away, the bigger of the two aliens manages to show up, start gunplay, and Quinn uses the opportunity to escape. Along with him, comes a batch of other military prisoners on his bus.

Soon, Quinn and the ragtag group of five military misfits he’s inherited (Trevante Rhodes,Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera) are going after the alien who’s going after Rory. Traeger and his minions are in hot pursuit too, not to mention Olivia Munn as Casey Bracket, an evolutionary biologist who wants to study the alien life-form. That’s a lot of players in this mix, yet the movie also manages to squeeze in Yvonne Strahovski as Rory’s mom and Quinn’s ex, an adorable pit bull, a bunch of faceless local law enforcement types who’ll be easily killed off, and a couple of the alien’s hunting dogs.

There’slinge way too much story this go-round, forcing characters to constantly stop and have to explain the plot to one another, as well as the audience, but the story is gibberish anyway. Director Shane Black, and his co-writer Fred Dekker, seem interested in blowing things up and slaughtering the cast of characters. It’s done with a sense of humor, of course, as is Black’s wont since he broke through as a writer penning the original “Lethal Weapon” movie back in 1987. Coincidentally, he broke through that same year as an actor in the original “Predator” film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. His efforts here bring his breakout year together with a heady spin of glib humor and body-ripping violence.

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Olivia Munn

The writer/director mined such veins to better results in 2013’s “Iron Man 3” and 2016’s “The Nice Guys. Here, he struggles to make it really funny or really tense. Worst of all, he develops ideas for the story that linger around for a few minutes but then disappear, never to be followed through on properly. The script sets up Nettles (Aguilera) as a lonely goof with a serious crush on Casey, but their relationship never really gels. Nor does Rory’s connection with that pit bull he encounters while on the run. In fact, the dog is completely dropped from the story. Even main supporting players Baxley (Jane) and Coyle (Key) get the shaft by an under-developed script. They’re supposed to have a deep history, but their scenes together go by so quickly, with zippy, overlapping dialogue, that little of their bond registers. The film even blows the opportunity it sets up for McKenna to reunite with his ex as halfway through the film, as Strahovski’s wife is written out of the story.

At least the young Tremblay gets some time to develop a character. He adds tics and quirks to his portrayal, suggesting the troubled youth’s problematic condition. Meanwhile, everyone else struggles to make sense of their underwritten characters. Brown tries valiantly to play against type, chewing the scenery like his gum and cursing everyone in sight, but the script doesn’t flesh out his villain enough. Jane is given, of all things, Tourette’s Syndrome to play for laughs. It may have been startling and outrageous when David E. Kelly made fun of it in “L.A. Law” back in 1990, but we’ve come a long way and humor like that plays as insensitive and outdated today.

Black’s sensitivity is lacking even in the action scenes. They’re all rushed through, with frenetic editing, and very little time given to establishing context or spatial relationships. Every scene feels manic, every noise too loud and intrusive. Henry Jackman is usually a superb composer, but his pulsing take on Alan Silvestri’s original 1987 score never pauses to breathe. It’s as if Black was afraid to take his foot off the gas.

The film parrots and parodies famous lines and tropes from the original, but is Black having fun or casting aspersions? It’s hard to tell from the wildly veering tone. When a character yells, “Get to the choppers!” as he orders others to steal motorcycles, the film feels like an affectionate homage. But when Black visually lampoons the dismembering death of Carl Weather’s original Dillon character, over and over again, it feels like he’s ridiculing the iconography.

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Black even fails to make the most of the aliens. The original director John McTiernan ensured that the predator was scary as hell, but here, Black treats the vicious alien like more of a nuisance. The hunter never seems that formidable, even though he’s 10 feet tall this time. There’s also no serious critique of the limits of machismo the way McTiernan essayed them in the first one. In the original “Predator”, Dutch’s men demonstrated inane hubris as they thought that they could out-muscle the monster in their midst. Only the Schwarzenegger character realized that strategy and cunning would be the weapons needed to take it down.

If only Black and Dekker tooled their story as such. Instead, they seem to be in love with everyone shooting at everyone else non-stop throughout the story. It makes for a lot of fireworks, but where are the cat and mouse elements that have distinguished the franchise throughout its three decades, even in the “Predator vs. Alien” pictures? This one seems content to just be silly entertainment, but why does it have to be so sloppy? The story even fails to conclude things properly, leaving loose ends regarding what happened to Traeger and Casey. Maybe we’re not meant to worry about such nagging questions because let’s face it, the filmmakers didn’t.  

Catch the trailer of The Predator below:

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