‘Preda­tor’ is on the hunt again

This one’s big­ger, but is it bet­ter? Re­view,

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Brian Truitt Colum­nist

Here’s the next step in the “Stranger Things”-iz­ing of our cul­ture: In “The Preda­tor,” the lat­est in the spotty sci-fi ac­tion fran­chise, Ja­cob Trem­blay wears the alien Preda­tor bat­tle hel­met out trick-or-treat­ing and deals with bullies in pre­co­ciously vi­o­lent fash­ion.

More than three decades af­ter Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger rum­bled in a jun­gle with the skilled ex­trater­res­trial war­rior in the orig­i­nal 1987 “Preda­tor,” di­rec­tor/ co-writer Shane Black puts in­vaders in the sub­urbs in the new ef­fort ( ★★☆☆; rated R; in the­aters na­tion­wide Fri­day), a B-movie at its heart with big-bud­get am­bi­tions. Full of ram­pant goofi­ness, gore, a jum­bled nar­ra­tive and hy­per­ac­tive pac­ing, “The Preda­tor” is fun­nier and more clever than you would ex­pect, though at the same time it’s an ’80s film that doesn’t re­al­ize it’s 2018 in terms of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

As in the first film, “The Preda­tor” throws you right into the ac­tion with a galac­tic vis­i­tor crash-land­ing in Mex­ico. For­mer Army Ranger sniper turned mer­ce­nary Quinn McKenna (Boyd Hol­brook) is in the area and, know­ing some­thing’s se­ri­ously strange, grabs some of the high-tech Preda­tor swag. He mails it to Rory (Trem­blay), his young son who has autism, for safe­keep­ing be­fore be­ing cap­tured and stuck on a bus full of fel­low veter­ans with PTSD – called, no joke, the “Loonies” – on their way to lobotomies.

Mean­while, Rory man­ages to turn on the Preda­tor de­vice, which brings a Su­per Preda­tor – he’s big­ger and more jacked up than his buddy – to Earth with his Preda­tor dogs, and the kid, his dad, the sol­diers and evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gist Casey Brack­ett (Olivia Munn) all wind up to­gether as the mis­fit-filled last line of de­fense against the Su­per Preda­tor’s ne­far­i­ous plans for our planet.

Hol­brook and “Moon­light” stand­out Tre­vante Rhodes (who plays calm and con­fi­dent sol­dier Ne­braska) both show­case ac­tion-hero met­tle. They might not have the same mus­cu­lar machismo as pre­de­ces­sors Sch­warzeneg­ger and Jesse “The Body” Ven­tura (Rhodes is pretty close, ac­tu­ally), but they’re more re­lat­able. Munn does her most sat­is­fy­ing work since “The News­room,” though her sci­en­tist is a smidge too bat­tle-ready for be­lief. And Ster­ling K. Brown, who classes up the en­tire en­deavor by sim­ply be­ing there, is joy­fully smarmy as the gum-chew­ing an­tag­o­nist in charge of the se­cre­tive gov­ern­ment lab keep­ing an eye on the Preda­tor pop­u­la­tion.

Black and Fred Dekker’s screen­play – their first cine­matic team-up since 1987’s “Mon­ster Squad” – fea­tures call­backs to the first two “Preda­tor” films plus ex­pands the mythol­ogy (like ty­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal changes to Preda­tor sight­ings). It has a wicked and quirky sense of hu­mor: One joke in­volves peo­ple ques­tion­ing why it’s called a Preda­tor when it’s re­ally a hunter or, as the good doc­tor puts it, “a bass fish­er­man.”

Yet ev­ery in­sight­ful storytelling choice is met with a head-scratch­ing one. (The most prob­lem­atic de­ci­sion was rec­ti­fied be­fore the movie’s re­lease, when the stu­dio cut a now-in­fa­mous scene with Munn and a reg­is­tered sex of­fender.) In one scene, two char­ac­ters have a rather nu­anced dis­cus­sion about peo­ple on the autism spec­trum, and in an­other Rory is met with an of­fen­sive term. Munn’s and Trem­blay’s char­ac­ters are tar­gets for the most ques­tion­able hu­mor, not to men­tion one sol­dier with Tourette’s (Thomas Jane) and an­other tied to a friendly-fire in­ci­dent (Kee­gan-Michael Key) who are oddly played for laughs. What would have worked in, say, 1987 just seems wildly out of place now.

Those things make “The Preda­tor” a dif­fi­cult sell, even for a su­per­fan of the orig­i­nal. The fact that it’s un­de­ni­ably en­ter­tain­ing is even more dis­ap­point­ing when faced with its im­ma­tu­rity.


A deadly alien war­rior es­capes from a se­cret gov­ern­ment com­pound in “The Preda­tor.”

Olivia Munn and Ja­cob Trem­blay are in se­ri­ous trou­ble in “The Preda­tor.”

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