Review: THE PREDATOR

Attempting yet another reboot of a franchise that launched with great success in 1987, writer/director Shane Black gives viewers a goofy, violent, R-rated b-movie that plays more like a parody of the film that inspired it.

Prepare yourself for yuck, yuck jokes combined with yucky comic bloodletting, “The Predator” uses the alien creatures created by Jim and John Thomas as a jumping off point for a retro feeling, one-dimensional, potty-mouthed action extravaganza. The surprise is how silly the script is. Writers Shane Black and Fred Dekker just can’t seem to control themselves, as they push every joke to the extreme and lose a grip on the tension and mystery that made the original so effective.

“The Predator” starts in the middle of a top secret military mission involving a drug cartel. A space ship crash lands disrupting the operation. In the wreckage, military sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) discovers alien technology. Donning the wrist gauntlet inextricably left behind, McKenna is able to survive. But because his team’s been strangely and savagely wiped out, he frantically mails the items back to America. His ridiculous belief is that he must safeguard this evidence in order to fend of blame that he was responsible for the mission gone bad.

Meanwhile, a maniacal military contractor named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) arrives to investigate. In time, he will interrogate McKenna. And for some reason, McKenna is blamed for the death of his team and shipped off to a VA mental institution. Apparently, whatever he saw at the crash site isn’t that important and burying him behind the walls of a hospital is the best way to keep the secret.

Naturally, McKenna’s package arrives on the doorstep of his home in America, where his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) immediately puts his advanced brain on figuring out how to work the devices hidden inside. It is this story that shows the most promise, as Rory’s tinkering with the wrist gauntlet summons another Predator to Earth. And when the boy decides to wear the alien tech as a Halloween costume, we get shades of both “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and Carpenter’s classic, ground-breaking slasher. If only the narrative had slowed down and focused on Rory.

But as this messy, break-neck story develops, McKenna recruits a misfit band of military castaways to form his own dirty half-dozen. These crazies are funny, especially the pairing of Baxley (Thomas Jane) and Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), who share an uncommon friendship. But instead of thrills and danger, Black goes for laughs, which are often cheap and put the nail in the coffin of a continued franchise.

A subplot involves a research facility run by Traeger. It’s a typical high-tech place manned by a number of busy bees buzzing about and monitoring computer terminals. In order to assist in the examination of the alien, scientist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is called in. Bracket is enchanted by the toothy creature that is strapped to a table, but when it escapes, she springs into action with a tranquilizer gun. The scientist immediately becomes a fearsome warrior without much explanation, and to be fair, this provides one of the movie’s funniest sequences, as Bracket gets integrated into the looney team led by McKenna.

One of the reasons that “Predator” worked back in 1987 was the scary uncertainty that lurked about, cloaked in the jungle, hunting a crack military team. And at the heart of that effective adventure was a magnetic action star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the height of his talents. The film followed the slasher notes, as each team member is picked off one-by-one. And by the time the remaining members figure it out, they were running low on manpower to take on the beast (played by the late Kevin Peter Hall). Still, the men, which included a young Shane Black, were hardened soldiers and proved to be somewhat menacing, a challenge that the Predator relished.

While there were plenty of one-liners and a few well-placed jokes, “Predator” was not a jokey experience. By comparison, “The Predator” is a low-rent comedy. And, perhaps, given the exaggerated science fiction elements associated with the outlandish idea of aliens visiting Earth to hunt and kill, humor is appropriate. But if “Predator” proved anything, laughs are the byproduct of tension that must be released. Leading with the joke strips an action film of any measure of danger and reduces the movie to a cartoon. And as this new film reaches its final reveal, one wonders whether a Transformer will make an appearance. I was reminded of Dwayne Johnson’s 2005 “Doom,” and “The Predator” becomes very much like a video game adaptation.

Sadly, I just can’t endorse Black’s take on the Predator material. His answer to everything is to make a flippant joke about it, instead of embracing the cruel reality of the death and mayhem occurring all around them. Sensitive actor Jacob Tremblay is corrupted by it all, as four-letter words come flowing from his innocent lips. It’s downright frustrating.

After a number of half-baked and lesser sequels (some of which were fun), it is clear that the magic of the 1987 film just can’t be duplicated. There’s just no “Aliens” in the offing here, which is unfortunate, given the talent that Black has and the cast he’s assembled. “The Predator” does not launch a new science fiction franchise, rather, it makes it all seem like a great big joke. And here that joke is on us.

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