A film review by Craig J. Koban October 2, 2018

THE PREDATOR j

2018, R, 107 mins.

 

Boyd Holbrook as Quinn McKenna  /  Trevante Rhodes as Nebraska Williams  /  Jacob Tremblay as Rory McKenna  /  Olivia Munn as Casey Bracket  /  Keegan Michael Key as Coyle  /  Yvonne Strahovski as Emily

Directed by Shane Black  /  Written by Black and Fred Dekker

 

 

THE PREDATOR is the fourth film in the science fiction series, coming after the original 1987 John McTiernan directed/Arnold Schwarzenegger starring classic, the not bad/not good 1990 sequel, and the surprisingly well oiled 2010 sequel (not including, of course, some terrible ALIEN VS. PREDATOR spin-off efforts).  Considering that THE PREDATOR (emphasis on THE to help segregate it apart from the introductory installment) has writer/director Shane Black at the helm should equal instant buzz, mostly because of how he rejuvenated the action genre of the 80's by penning the LETHAL WEAPON films, not to mention that he also starred in the very first PREDATOR 30-plus years ago, making this project one of a once in a career/full circle variety. 

Even with Black's name and proven pedigree helming it all, THE PREDATOR mournfully comes off as a film that was made by people that have never really seen any other PREDATOR films before, and as a negative result feels like some sort of unholy and mismatched hodgepodge of a quip-a-minute comedy and a sci-fi action thriller.  It also has no clue whatsoever what kind of sequel it's really trying to be in terms of tone.  Most definitely, the Au-nald led entry from the 80's had its share of chuckles at key moments, but deep down it was a pure adrenalized and testosterone laced Regan-era action epic featuring a squad of rugged manly military men being picked off one at a time by a cloaked extraterrestrial hunter from the cosmos.  Plus, it was tense and scary to boot.  THE PREDATOR is such an embarrassing fiasco throughout by direct comparison that anyone in the audience going in hoping it will re-capture some of the original's lightning in a bottle aesthetic is seriously deluding themselves.  Black can't simply decide whether or not he's making a bona fide PREDATOR sequel...or a campy send-up of 1980's genre films...or a genuine sci-fi action picture with would-be sly winks to the viewers...or a combination of all three.  This movie's annoyingly schizophrenic nature was off-putting within the first 15-20 minutes. 

 

 

And considering what a bravura talent Black is with screenplays and, in particular, dialogue (see KISS KISS BANG BANG and the terribly underrated period buddy cop comedy THE NICE GUYS), the utter lack of creative discipline on display here in THE PREDATOR is shocking.  Plus, Black doesn't even bring much to the table when it comes to his version's basic premise, which is yet another variation in the evil aliens come to Earth and battle a squadron of likeable rogues that are seriously in over their heads sci-fi outing.  On paper, Black's basic plot (with an assist by Fred Dekker) is flavorless and generic.  At the very least, THE PREDATOR is not a lame duck reboot or a re-imagining, but instead an actual continuation of the first three PREDATOR that even goes out of its way to acknowledge the events of the first two.  Yet, Black never truly elevates or raises the stakes of this series in any meaningful way, making his sequel come off as woefully perfunctory as a result. 

Here's what you need to know: Military assassin Quinn McKenna (LOGAN's terrific Boyd Hollbrook, slumming it here) catches a glimpse of the dreadlocked and heat vision hunting alien while on assignment.  While narrowly escaping death he manages to steal some of the Predator's high tech gear and - no BS - mails it to his autistic son, Rory (ROOM's Jacob Tremblay), for safekeeping, which is probably the least sensible idea one would have to keep top secret alien weapons safe.  The military police swoop in and arrest Quinn and try to keep him quiet, and one bureaucratic nutjob named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) has managed to capture a Predator and keeps him chained up at an underground research facility to study and weaponize his fancy gadgets.  He brings in a scientist/teacher Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to help lead his scientific studies, but then everything falls apart with the appearance of a larger and more lethal alpha Predator...and the captured one escapes, leaving shit very much getting real for all.  Conveniently, Quinn finds himself teaming up with Casey and a ragtag group of military criminals to save their collective asses and rid the world of these beasts. 

Black, to his credit, can write splendid rapid fire exchanges replete with ample verbal zingers.  That much is clear.  However, THE PREDATOR is borderline obnoxiously jokey throughout, showcasing the writer/director not really knowing when to quit, which consequently leaves his film lacking in genuine tension.  One of the military misfits, for example, suffers from crippling Tourette Syndrome, which leads to him lashing out with foul mouthed and nonsensical tirades for the sake of cheap laughs.  It's all pretty witless, which results in THE PREDATOR feeling more like a broad and farcical Farrelly Brother screwball comedy throughout.  Then there's some potentially amusing sight gags, like one featuring a Predator that has just mauled a marine in the back of a transport vehicle, leaving the surviving driver asking his partner if he's okay, being blissfully unaware.  The Predator responds by grabbing the dead man's severed arm - which is giving a thumbs up sign - and sticks it through a tiny window for the driver to see and give him a false sense of security.  Now, how would an alien race know that a thumbs up cue was a sign of everything's okay is beyond me.  Also, why in the h-e-double hockey sticks wouldn't he just brutally murder the other marine? 

While re-watching the first PREDATOR I gained the impression that the series of roided up grunts in that story - whom all never backed down from any man and/or army - felt legitimately scared of the shock and awe jungle attacks of their Predator adversary.  In Black's film these ex-cons - most of which don't look like they could survive ten seconds in a first fight with Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, or Carl Weathers - throw out witty verbal jabs while multiple Predators (and their space dogs) try to exterminate them.  That's not to say that THE PREDATOR doesn't deliver on requisite levels of gory mayhem (this sequel is as mindlessly blood drenched as its predecessors), but the over-the-top humor neuters any level of visceral intensity this film should have had.  That, and the humans in this film make idiotic choices throughout, in scene after scene they're all shown shooting round after round of machine gun ammunition at these virtually unstoppable monsters without putting a dent in them.  You'd think after a short while that one of them would shout out, "Hey, bullets ain't working!" 

Most of the characters are thinly developed stock types, but Munn's in particular is one of the most conveniently written in many a moon.  She's a teacher and evolutionary biologist that also happens to be an expert at - when various scenes require it - hand-to-hand combat, loading and firing various assault weapons, making and planting explosives, and talking trash just as crudely as her male co-stars.  She's simply one of the least credible scientist characters ever to grace the screen.  I like Munn a lot, seeing as she's an attractive and headstrong performer.  But, gee whiz, she nonsensically occupies scenes late in THE PREDATOR where she's literally jumping on the alpha's back as part of a coordinated and planned group attack, and how she's not instantly reduced to shreds by this ruthless killing machine is beyond me.  Munn very famously came out on social media recently to blast (and rightfully so) Black's hiring of one of his friends in a bit part for the film that just so happened to be a registered sex offender (the actor's brief scenes were subsequently cut to avoid negative publicity).  Trust me when I say that this tawdry story behind the scenes is the least of THE PREDATOR's problems. 

On positives, I welcomed Henry Jackman's music score that belted out various themes and riffs from Alan Silvestri's awesome work on the first PREDATOR as well as (at least with one of them) the makeup work for the alien itself, which thankfully is done with good old fashioned and practical animatronics (they look just as tactile and menacing as what's come before).  Alas, the longer THE PREDATOR went on - and then unavoidably spirals out of control to a ludicrous third act that shamefully doesn't bring an ending of suitable closure, but rather one that smugly sets up more sequels - I was left kind of shaking my head in disbelief.  Truth be told, trying to relaunch such a long gestating cinematic series like PREDATOR and make it feel fresh and novel while paying respect to iconic '87 film is a daunting challenge.  Unfortunately, THE PREDATOR emerges as an egregious failure of a sequel, mostly because of the good faith and hope that Black's participation precludes here is undone by an uncharacteristically sloppy execution on his part.   This is a lost sequel in desperate search of an identity that displays a reverence for the early films of the series, but nevertheless never once feels like it's an actual part of said cinematic universe.  

I'm not sure what's worse, that this is the worst PREDATOR film ever made or that it's the worst PREDATOR film that's also the brainchild of Black.  Exhausting, convoluted, and smugly conceived in most respects, this sequel is like one long and unending self-deprecating in-joke about the PREDATOR universe and not a follow-up installment worthy of our time or the director's sizable talents.

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