Friday, December 3, 2010

Predators Movie Review: An Arnie Classic Defiled

Adrien Brody awakens to find himself in freefall, hurtling toward the earth at terminal velocity, desperately searching for a ripcord. His parachute opens quite late and he slams into the ground. Luckily he gets up virtually unscathed with no broken bones. Hopefully his career will turn out the same way after taking this part in Predators, the reboot (or sequel of sorts because reference is made to events in the original) of the 1987 cult favorite which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Shortly after landing he links up with several others in the same situation. They’re all left to discover what an American mercenary, an IDF soldier, a Mexican drug cartel enforcer, a doctor, a death row inmate, a Japanese Yakuza, a Sierra Leone guerilla, and a Russian Special Forces soldier all have in common. Well, one thing is that they all rather conveniently speak English. Phew! If they didn’t, the film would have been a hard sell on American audiences.

They all start out quite confused, especially after realizing the earth seems to have no recognizable magnetic field and the sun doesn’t move the way it should. I think they eventually figure out what’s going on, which is more than I can say for myself. This film is such an awful muddled mess that by the end I think I figured out here were at least two, possibly three, species of humanoid involved in the plot and two of those were dropped unwittingly from the sky to square off against one another. Or were they left there as prey for the inhabitants of the alien planet?

I don’t know what producer or casting agent decided that Brody was a suitable action hero, but it’s a completely uninspired casting choice. He’s obviously beefed up a bit and he dons the best gruff raspy voice he can muster, but he does little more than trudge his way through this Screenwriting 101 product from the newcomers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch.

Director Nimrod Antal relies on the fact that most of the audience coming into this movie is more or less familiar with the John McTiernan original. There is little in the way of setting up the methods of the alien predators. We already know how they move and hunt. So all the suspense is merely in waiting for each member of the party to be picked off.

Brody is joined by Brazilian actress Alice Braga as the Israeli soldier, I suppose because she looks “ethnic.” Danny Trejo brings his face with a map of the world to Cuchillo, the Mexican enforcer. And Topher Grace provides the brains in the group as the doctor. Apparently Litvak’s and Finch’s limited understanding of medical school has led them to believe that all doctors are familiar with decomposition rates of human corpses and are also botanists able to identify poisonous plants on an alien planet. While we’re on the subject, do you suppose that after he gives a description of exactly what the venom from that plant will do we will eventually get to witness it firsthand?

Later Lawrence Fishburne turns up, giving the film’s only serious attempt at acting, as Noland, a survivor who’s been marooned on the planet for many years and is just barely managing to remain this side of crazy. His character very helpfully provides exposition, a noble purpose for such a gifted actor. The details he reveals might have been less clumsily divulged by employing an omniscient narrator.

There is hardly a single original idea during the entirety of the film’s 105 minute running time. There isn’t a single line of dialogue that isn’t either expository or a variation on some action movie cliché. Although each character is a kind of lone gunman in their private lives on earth, each has a selfless act worked into the screenplay. There is also a character reversal that takes place in the final stages of the film that makes absolutely no sense at all. It’s tossed in for no reason other than to add a mysterious edge to the first 95 percent of the film and then to create a “Wow, I didn’t expect that” moment near the end. This reversal is provided a paper-thin explanation, which is certainly consistent with the quality of the film as a whole.

One final note: If nothing else, Predators serves as a reminder that Western society (or Hollywood, at least) is still not prepared to relinquish its view of Asians as mystical people. It’s like going back to the 18th century sometimes. As if it wasn’t enough that Hanzo, the Yakuza, is enough of an expert to be able to recognize a samurai sword as being “very old,” he is also skilled at using it. Because of course all Japanese men are also samurai. But this kind of racism is just par for the course in too many movies.

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