Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review Backlog 4: Predators

I don't always get the Predator series. Oh, don't get me wrong, I like it. Hellraiser taught me years ago that you don't need to get something to like it. But there always feels like there's something I'm missing with the Predator movies, like the director was trying to make a point with it. What, if anything, that point is entirely escapes me, but I feel there's a point somewhere.

So anyway, the biggest thing this movie had going for it pre-release (okay, other than it's the first Predator only film since Predator 2) was that Robert Rodriguez was spearheading the project. I'm not going to bother delving into the rather large list of reasons why we, as a culture, love Robert Rodriguez. No, I'm here to dampen your enthusiasm.

See, Mr. Rodriguez isn't directing this thing he's producing it. Producer, whatever Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog tells you, can mean a lot of things. For example, back in 2009 (ohhhh, way long ago) there was a little movie called 9. No, not Nine the godawful musical with Penelope Cruz, 9 a little animated film with Elijah Wood. It has 2 producers, one of whom was Tim Burton and I'm not sure they did equal work. The movie had very little of Burton's signature about it, so I assume he wanted to be there so he could get some checks to keep paying for Helena Bonham Carter's Addagothtome procedures. I'm also sure that the studio only wanted him there so they could say the guy who worked on The Nightmare Before Christmas was working on it. So when they say Mr. Rodriguez is the Producer, that could mean he was barely involved. The director is a guy named Nimrod Antal, who has done 3 movies, 2 of which I've never seen. The one I have seen is Armored because it was free on the Playstation Network for a few hours and it was shit. So I was little nervous going in.

Well I'm 4 paragraphs in and I've yet to properly address Predators, but I've not a lot to say about it, so that works. For those of you who have hacked your way through my mostly irrelevant rants and are getting bored, allow me to give you a quick quality check: Yeah it's pretty good. It's not amazing, but it's definitely not bad. If that's enough information for you, go see it. You'll probably have fun, I did. For those of you who want a detailed opinion, read on.

The setup is simplistic, but it works so I won't complain. A bunch of soldiers, psychos, criminals etc. are dropped onto an alien world to be hunted by the vicious aliens of the title. There's a mercenary, a couple soldiers, a prisoner, a yakuza, and so on. Of course, since 9 out of 10 of the big name action stars are off doing The Expendables (spoiler for The Expendables: It's The Dirty Dozen) we're left with a bunch of character actors and no names, which works for better or for worse. The biggest action name on hand is Lawrence Fishburn, and he doesn't get a lot of screen time.

The action beats are the heart of any movie like this and therefore it's a good thing they're stellar. There's some familiar territory: someone gets his spine ripped out, someone disguises himself with mud, grenade are useful for making sure you take someone with you, etc. There's also some new bits, including some fun involving this big dog things and even a sword fight. I'm not gonna talk about them anymore, cuz I don't wanna spoil it, but they all work and are exciting.
Cinematography and special effects are fantastic. Someone definitely took great care in location scouting and prop building, and it's nice that the Predator is still a dude in a suit, instead of CGI. Makes him more threatening. There's also a lot of early suspense, based on someone on hand finally realizing that the Predator, like his cousin the Alien needs to stay offscreen for the first act.

The story is almost entirely nonexistent: Bunch of dudes are dropped on a planet and endevour to get off the planet. The characters are, for a B-Movie at least, well rounded and interesting enough to keep you sitting there, and the dialogue works for the most part. There are exceptions to both those, some of the dialogue is kinda flat and at least one of the characters is deeply boring, but it's still above average for a monster movie.

The acting is a mixed group, probably due to the fact that they have no big name actors attached. Of the actors, Lawrence Fishburn is the standout; I don't want to spoil his role, but trust me it's good. Topher Grace does a solid job, but the film doesn't do a whole lot for him as he's mostly a background character. At least 2 of the actors don't actually have to you know... act. The Yakuza guy says maybe 4 lines of dialogue in the entire film, mostly just stands around being silent and badass, and the Russian guy mostly just hangs around being the Heavy from Team Fortress 2. Most of the rest of the characters aren't worth mentioning.

Of course, this movie has thrown into sharp relief something that I've been saying since 2005: That Adrian Brody is unconvincing as an action hero. It was true in King Kong and it's still true now. It's not that set-in-modern action heroes have to be big tough muscleheads, Antonio Bandaras was always deeply convincing in the El Mariachi series and he's not physically imposing. But something about Brody makes him unconvincing, make him feel less than tough. How about this Mr. Rodriguez or maybe Mr. Antal. If you have a time machine and want to go back and make your movie slightly better than it was. Instead of getting Adrian Brody, how about you go and hire Tahmoh Penikett. He played Helo in the good Battlestar Galactica and Agent Ballard in Dollhouse. He's the same basic build, he's a solid actor and he does a fantastic badass. He even has some experience running through the woods while being chased, if the first season of Galactica is any indication.

Oh, and while I have you here. Mr. Rodriguez...Robert...my Liege. Look Spy Kids was a great film, no one is denying that. Good fun, well directed, well written, all around great film. The problem is, you haven't done a single worthwhile kids film since then. So do you think you could cool it, you got into Zack Snyder's head and he's doing an inevitably shitty kids film.


Now, wasn't that nice? Okay, so on the most basic level, Predators is a good film. Like so many things this summer, it's not an amazing film, but it's easily the best thing out of the franchise since the first film. It's also easily one of the best action films out this summer. Plus, if it does well the franchise could come back and based on this one, that is certainly desirable. So I'm gonna go ahead and give this one a thumbs up. You go see it, and I'll try to track down a theater showing The Girl Who Played With Fire.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he is deeply disappointed that no one told the Predator that he was, in fact, one ugly motherfucker.

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