Re­view: 'The Preda­tor' out­stays its wel­come on Earth

OUT­STAYS ITS WEL­COME ON EARTH

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Content - Re­view: Mark Kennedy AP En­ter­tain­ment Writer

Preda­tors are per­sonal for Shane Black. He was hacked apart by one of the fear­some alien hunters in the first "Preda­tor" movie 31 years ago and now re­turns to sit in the di­rec­tor's chair for the lat­est saga in the fran­chise.

Ready for some pay­back, Shane? More im­por­tantly, will you over­see the de­struc­tion of Preda­tors or will you ac­ci­den­tally kill off the se­ries, once and for all? The an­swer is a lit­tle of both.

Only a def­i­nite ar­ti­cle in the ti­tle sep­a­rates the new "The Preda­tor "from the 1987 de­but "Preda­tor" star­ring Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, and clearly Black is try­ing to cap­ture the spirit of the testos­terone-fu­eled orig­i­nal with this one led by a dec­o­rated sniper played by Boyd Hol­brook. Both flicks share a wel­come wink­ing hu­mor. If any­one asks "Ev­ery­thing OK back there?" you can be cer­tain it's not.

The first film fea­tured car­toon­ishly mas­cu­line sol­diers in the jun­gle of Cen­tral Amer­ica track­ing and be­ing tracked by a huge and tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced beast with dread­locks, a face full of mandibles and the abil­ity to both go in­vis­i­ble and hu­mil­i­ate ar­ro­gant prey. It echoed the hor­ror of Viet­nam and was a clever com­bi­na­tion of "Rambo" and "Alien" with hu­mor that would make a locker room blush. (Black played the be­spec­ta­cled Hawkins and was an early ca­su­alty.)

Black has re­turned — with cowriter Fred Dekker — for an­other loud soldier-ver­sus-Preda­tor slice in an Amer­i­can for­est — well, ac­tu­ally, thanks, Canada! — but with some twists. Although the film­mak­ers

boast about a much-im­proved alien, the only no­tice­able up­date is the ad­di­tion of their track­ing ca­nines — that's right, "space dogs," as one char­ac­ter jokes. And this time the sol­diers are all suf­fer­ing from PTSD, along with other prob­lems trig­gered by Tourette's syn­drome, sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies and opi­oid ad­dic­tion. View­ers get plenty of de­cap­i­ta­tions, lynch­ings, head shots and bow­els cut open.

Black's film­mak­ing is old-school, grounded in '80s hu­mor, rev­el­ing at its over-the-top­ness and of­ten glee­fully thumb­ing its nose at po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. That might be re­fresh­ing, but it also can lead to ques­tion­able de­ci­sions. Like, is it nec­es­sary to set one of the bat­tles — com­plete with as­sault weapons and ex­plo­sions — in an ele­men­tary school?

And is it wise to por­tray hurt­ing sol­diers this way? They've nick­named them­selves "The Loonies" and they are a foul-mouthed, messy wild bunch who met in group ther­apy. They're por­trayed by Tre­vante Rhodes, Kee­gan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Al­fie Allen and Au­gusto Aguil­era, who all de­liver a strange brew of toi­let hu­mor, clas­sic misog­yny and aching vul­ner­a­bil­ity, but laugh­ing at bro­ken men and men­tal ill­ness quickly grows un­com­fort­able. To make mat­ters even worse, an­other char­ac­ter has Asperger's syn­drome, which is cyn­i­cally used as a plot point. Pro­fes­sional psy­chol­o­gists are not go­ing to like this film.

One change is the ad­di­tion of some es­tro­gen in the form of Olivia Munn, who plays not just a sci­en­tist but a huge one — "I heard you ba­si­cally wrote the book on evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy," she's told by a guy in a white lab coat. In a mat­ter of hours, she's gone from lit­er­ally shoot­ing her­self in the foot to blast­ing an as­sault weapon with aplomb. She ac­tu­ally man­ages to make the di­a­logue work, as does a thrilling Ster­ling K. Brown, whose CIA hon­cho pos­i­tively swag­gers with flashes of pitch-dark hu­mor. He steals the film from the os­ten­si­ble hero, Hol­brook, who fails to sparkle.

One wel­come cameo is by Jake Busey, who plays a re­search sci­en­tist who stud­ies Preda­tors. It's an in­side joke: He's the son of Gary Busey, who played a gov­ern­ment sci­en­tist in "Preda­tor 2" — so Black is keep­ing the part in the fam­ily. Plot-wise, to be hon­est, not much has changed ei­ther — a rag­tag group of sol­diers face off against an alien hunter. Hard­core fans will wel­come the fran­chise's re­turn but neu­tral ob­servers may ques­tion why this was com­mit­ted to cel­lu­loid.

"What am I look­ing at?" Munn's char­ac­ter asks about some data shown to her, but might as well be ad­dress­ing the film's au­di­ence. "It's ex­actly what you think it is," a sci­en­tist re­sponds.

The film cre­ated head­lines af­ter Munn flagged 20th Cen­tury Fox that a mi­nor ac­tor was a regis­tered sex of­fender, mean­ing a real preda­tor was in the mix. His scenes were soon cut, but, weirdly, she faced a back­lash . If there's ever a hero here, it's Munn: On film, as in real life, she's chal­lenged the all-boys' net­work.

But Black, who wrote "The Last Ac­tion Hero" and sev­eral "Lethal Weapon" films, floun­ders, see­ing his gifts as a di­rec­tor tested. Scenes are poorly knit­ted to­gether, es­pe­cially to­ward the end. Time and tempo break down, as if the film were snap­ping apart at the seams.

Ideas are of­fered — might Preda­tor DNA be mixed with those of a hu­man? Why do Preda­tors keep com­ing back to Earth? — but quickly aban­doned. Some char­ac­ters die in un­der­whelm­ing ways, as if the film stock ran out. At the end, Black some­what ar­ro­gantly of­fers a clear spring­board to a se­quel. Whether any­one cares for it re­mains to be seen.

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