Monday, July 12, 2010

Movie Review: Predators

I was super-duper stoked about seeing this movie. I said so in my Summer Movie Preview and I have been repeating it often since then. Ever since I heard Robert Rodriguez was involved in a Predator movie, I was pretty much sold. I have yet to see a Rodriguez film that I don’t absolutely love. Desperado, From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Planet Terror and Sin City are all favorites of mine. I even think The Faculty is pretty great. Plus, the guy named his production company after me, so how could I not be down with that?

Okay, not really; but I am definitely a Rodriguez fan. The one thing I should have kept in mind while getting so pumped up about Predators was that Rodriguez did not actually direct it. I’m not saying that’s good or bad; I just would have approached the movie a bit differently if I had given that fact more thought. The movie was directed by Nimrod Antal, who directed Vacancy and Armored. I really liked the former and completely forgot about the latter until right now.

Minor spoilers may follow:

The movie opens in epic fashion: Adrien Brody – many people’s sticking point about why this movie wasn’t going to work – is free-falling through the sky. We don’t know where he came from or where he’s going, and neither does he. He tries desperately and without success to activate what appears to be a parachute release mechanism. Finally a timer or altimeter activates, the chute deploys, we get a harrowing journey through some treetops, Brody hits the ground and BAM!:

Awesome fucking opening that hooks you immediately.

We spend the next segment getting to meet all of the fine folks that will be along for our little adventure and wondering about the who’s, what’s and why’s of the whole situation. And then shit gets hectic, real quick.

Predators features a collection of characters who are at the top of their respective fields of killing, except for a doctor played by Topher Grace. Alice Braga is a sniper who may or may not know a little sumpin’ sumpin’ about what’s going on, Danny Trejo plays a drug cartel enforcer and Walter Goggins (Shane from The Shield) portrays a scumbag (surprise!) inmate who was on death row in San Quentin until his mysterious arrival in the Predators’ planet’s lower atmosphere. They are joined by a Russian Spetnaz, a Sierra Leone death squad commander and a Yakuza lieutenant. I would watch a movie about the Russian guy and the Japanese guy anytime.

And you also have Adrien Brody in the lead role.

Holy shit! Who the fuck is that guy?

Ever since 1989 when Michael Keaton schooled me on pre-judging who is right for what role I have kept an open mind about actors. I had no problem with Brody leading the cast of this movie. Somehow the only movie I had seen him in before Predators was King Kong, and I really liked him in that. I could accept him as a badass action guy. I might have even been predisposed to it. Having said all that, I just had a lot of trouble buying him for most of the movie. His character is basically Riddick from Pitch Black, but somehow Diesel sells it better. Don’t get me wrong – Brody pulled off all the action and murder like a champ. He just seemed to be trying too hard to be… hard. By the end of the movie it really doesn’t matter though. He’s kicked so much ass that you love the guy.

Getting back to the hectic. Once everybody decides that yes, indeed they do need to work together; that’s when the real stars of the movie start to make their presence known. And that’s about as far as I’m going into the plot. The story is basically the same as the original Predator, but on a planet that isn’t Earth. That’s okay, because it’s just different enough to seem more referential than ripoff. I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that we are introduced to some new species in the movie, including an alien that seems like a direct homage to Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead creature.

The effects are super-great. There isn’t one moment in the whole movie that seems artificial and that is one hell of an accomplishment for a current movie. I understand that practical effects were used whenever possible and it really shows. Hollywood has yet to produce entirely believable CGI.

The scoring is either directly from or intentionally similar to that used in the first movie. The only time it differs is during fights with the new species of Predator we are introduced to. Even though these new compositions are still based on the original score I didn’t care for them. They sounded like somebody had added some James A. Johnston guitar work over the old music. You don’t update something just by adding crunchy guitar riffs.

There were a few points where Predators kind of dragged. I think these were attempts to build tension in the same way the original did, and they may well have been effective but for one thing: I was in a Rodriguez state of mind. All of his movies are fast-paced and frenetic with huge doses of over-the-top action. Predators is not. It is a thoughtful and well-paced thriller that boils to an awesome climax.

And that climax is the shit. It is arrived at naturally and in a way that you can almost taste what’s coming. Granted, one portion of it is so expected that I was actually surprised it turned out how I thought it would. It just seemed too obvious. But the rest – real edge-of-your-seat stuff. It leaves you craving a sequel, particularly the last line of dialogue. I’m not going to spoil it, but it is fucking great.

Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I like this movie.

Overall, Predators was a pretty rocking good time. I think it could use a bit of trimming in some places to up the pace, but I might be wrong. I’ll need another viewing to decide that and this movie will definitely get one down the road.

3 out of 5 Invisible Friends

(That rating has a dual meaning for this movie – boy, am I clever!)

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