One thing’s for sure: producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal, the men behind “Predators” certainly know their genre. Before the first five minutes of “Predators” are even up, bullets are flying in ridiculous quantities. That type of wanton ammo dispensing doesn’t take much of a break as the film progresses, which makes you wonder: just how much ammo did these guys bring with them to the party? Of course, that’s a silly question. If you were going to indulge in foolish questions like that, then you mind as well wonder how it is that, despite all the running, tumbling, falling, jumping, and diving the characters do in the movie, they never once lose their big, hulking weapons. I mean, that mini-gun the Russian carries around must weigh what, 30 pounds easy? But I digress.
“Predators” is the third in the “Predator” franchise, though it treats the Danny Glover-fronted “Predator 2” as if it never happened. “Predators” wants to be a direct sequel to John McTiernan’s 1987 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and explicitly references that film. The sequel opens in grand style, with seven clueless humans from planet Earth dropped out of the sky, fully locked and loaded with weapons of their specialty, onto an alien planet that also acts as a gaming reserve for the alien race known as Predators. Among the human cargo are: Royce (Adrien Brody), a mercenary; Isabelle (Alice Braga), a South American sniper; Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), a Russian soldier; Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Yakuza enforcer; Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), a Mexican cartel enforcer; Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), an African death squad member; Stans (Walton Goggins), a Death Row con; and oh yeah, Doogie Howser M.D. himself, all grown up and played by Topher Grace.
The sore thumb of the group is Grace’s Edwin, a doctor who has no idea why he was chosen. The rest, though, know exactly why – they are killers, badasses on Earth, and perfect game for the Predators. Dropped onto the alien planet, they must work together in order to survive, all the while being stalked by three Predators and their little doggies. We come to learn that there are two rival races of Predators – the ones we’re used to, and a new, slightly bigger (though honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to notice much difference, bulk-wise), blacker versions. Super Black Predators, if you will. Hey, it only makes sense, right? Just because they’re Predators, it doesn’t mean they all get along. Humans haven’t been able to master that particular trait since we learned to walk, after all.
All balls to the wall action from start to finish, “Predators” was designed to thrill and satisfy the action junkie within you. Heck, the characters don’t even bother introducing themselves by name until towards the end. A bulked up Adrien Brody leads the cast, and I have to admit, I didn’t quite get the casting at first, but true to his reputation, Brody has whipped himself into impressive shape for the role. He actually works as a tough mercenary loner intent on survival at all cost. You may think he’s an asshole, but I like to think he’s just a practical survivalist. Of course, Brody would have to be pretty big and fit to lug that big shotgun rifle of his around. Even if he was hauling around a lighter prop replica most of the time, that thing must still weigh a ton. Alice Braga provides able assist as Royce’s lieutenant of sorts, and maybe it’s just me, but there’s nothing sexier than a woman armed with a gun big enough to be used as a clubbing weapon of last resort.
The film benefits from the barebones, action-first approach of Rodriguez and Antal (“Armored”). Taking a cue from and following closely in the footsteps of McTiernan’s original, the film understands what its audience demands, and the boys definitely don’t disappoint. There is an amusing appearance from Laurence Fishburne as Noland, a human prey who has somehow managed to survive on the alien planet for the last 10 years, albeit not entirely with his full faculties intact. A twitchy, imaginary-friend conversing shell of his former self, Noland livens things up when he finally appears about halfway through the movie. Rumor had the role originally being offered to Schwarzenegger, as a reprisal of his Dutch character; it’s a good thing that never happened, because a slightly batty Noland is infinitely more interesting than an aging Dutch.
“Predators” is one of those movies that takes itself just seriously enough to produce the excellent action set pieces that a film like this (and indeed, the audience) demands. Topher Grace is there to provide comedic relief, and there are a couple of chuckles here and there to be had courtesy of his befuddled doctor, who thanks to his mostly uselessness, gets a lot of work as “bait”. Walton Goggins is also highly entertaining as the ex-con Stans. It’s a pleasure to note the completely morally corrupt character he plays here, and his born again character in TV’s “Justified”. Fans of Trejo may be disappointed to learn that his Cuchillo gets dispatched way too early in the game. Faring much better is Louis Ozawa Changchien’s Hanzo, who gets involved in an impressive swordfight with one of the Predators.
Bottom line: I can’t see fans of the franchise having a whole lot to complain about here, though knowing fanboys, that probably won’t stop them anyway. As a wannabe direct sequel to McTiernan’s 1987 original, “Predators” doesn’t come close to outdoing the first movie, though it certainly makes a strong case for living up to expectations. To be sure, more could have been done to expand on the rivalry between the two Predator races, but maybe they’re saving that up for the sequel. One final tidbit, though: there are a number of scenes in the trailers that didn’t make it into the movie, including the very cool scene where Royce gets lit up by the aiming dots of Predator shoulder-mounted lasers. In the film, there is only one laser taking aim instead of dozens. I’m telling you this so you don’t spend the entire movie waiting for it, as I did.
Nimród Antal (director) / Alex Litvak , Michael Finch (screenplay)
CAST: Adrien Brody … Royce
Topher Grace … Edwin
Alice Braga … Isabelle
Walton Goggins … Stans
Oleg Taktarov … Nikolai
Laurence Fishburne … Noland
Danny Trejo … Cuchillo
Louis Ozawa Changchien … Hanzo
Mahershalalhashbaz Ali … Mombasa