In 1994, Robert Rodriguez—after all the hullabaloo surrounding his El Mariachi (1992)—was asked to write a script for a third installment to the Predator franchise, a script that was never filmed. Now, over a decade-and-a-half later, Rodriguez has finally made his Predator film, Predators—albeit through his own Troublemaker Studios and simply in the role of producer. The script used by director Nimród Antal (Armored) to make Predators was revised by newcomer screenwriters Alex Litvak and Michael Finch.
It’s impossible to tell just from watching the movie how much of Rodriguez’s original script still exists in this final cut. Regardless, trying to find glimmers of Rodriguez in Predators—beyond the casting of Rodriguez favorite Danny Trejo—is unfair, because this is more Antal’s show than anyone else’s. Predators isn’t as fun or as inherently quirky as a Rodriguez film, but it never really tries to be.
Instead, its main goal as a movie is to act as a proper sequel to John McTiernan’s 1987 original—and within these very limited means, the film succeeds. Antal goes out of his way to make the two movies look and feel the same—right down to including Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” (which appeared in Predator) over the end credits. Forgetting the B-movie junkiness of the Alien vs. Predator flicks and the overt cheesiness of Predator 2 (1990), Antal instead opts for a return to something more in tune with the ‘80s gritty machismo of the original. I’m assuming there’s some type of demand for this, and for those in question there’s little here to be disappointed in.
Like McTiernan’s film, the newest installment takes place in the jungle—but not just any jungle. No, this time around the action takes place on an alien planet, where the titular Predators—a race of hulking, technologically advanced, dread-lock sporting aliens—have created what amounts to a game reserve. Since their only concern appears to be the challenge of the hunt, these creatures have kidnapped a covey of various ne’er-do-wells and professional killers from Earth in order to hunt them down. Apparently, these aliens have never read Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” because killing off all these people (we are a stubborn bunch) isn’t too easy in practice.
That’s the crux of the plot. The film moves from set piece to set piece, as this rag-tag group of soldiers and mercenaries fight for survival—and the vague hope of finding their way back to Earth. It’s a workable enough premise, especially since Antal is only playing it for entertainment value. The movie is pure popcorn, but in a pretty underwhelming summer blockbuster season, it’s one of the few big-name titles that have gotten it right.
The film shoots for a certain amount of realism, something that’s not entirely possible due to the inherent hokiness of a movie involving seven-foot-tall invisible space monsters trying to hunt down Topher Grace. And even if you can bring yourself to overlook the corny dialogue (and the worst final line in recent history), this is still a film that doesn’t find the sight of a Yakuza member (Louis Ozawa Changchien, Gigantic) with a samurai sword fighting a giant alien in a wheat field the least bit goofy.
But even when Predators appears to be falling apart, it manages to do something right in order to get your attention once again. The aforementioned samurai fight scene is silly in theory, yet it’s the most coherent action scene in the entire movie, not to mention the most visually striking. Adrien Brody—as a generic movie tough guy—is miscast, not because he can’t handle the role, but because he’s too good for it. Simply being a callow badass is a waste, yet he still manages to bring a bit of well-needed gravitas.
The casting in general is spot on, from Laurence Fishburne as a crazed survivalist to Walter Goggins (Randy and the Mob) as a white-trash death-row inmate. Overall, the film succeeds within the limited means of what it’s attempting. It’s not a terribly deep movie, but it’s constantly entertaining and shouldn’t let the diehards down. Rated R for strong creature violence and gore, and pervasive language.