(Image by Kimberly French courtesy of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation)
There is a running inside joke perpetuated by Olivia Munn and Sterling K. Brown’s characters in The Predator that calls into question the titular nickname as an incorrect moniker for the dexterously deadly alien life-form bouncing around their Georgia landscape. Her brainy scientist retorts his gum-smacking government puppeteer that a true predator kills for necessity and survival while this species creates tracking, exploits weaknesses, and, most of all, enjoys the kill. She says the name doesn’t fit leading many other jovial characters go on to chime in with other replacement synonyms. Munn’s appraisal feels like an assessment for the entire film before us.
Even if it flaunts new muscles on the outside, Shane Black’s The Predator is not forceful beast of prey for the silver screen. The formidable menace its pulpy lore is built on is replaced with the penchant to slay for laughs first and gore second. Bolstered by a game cast of crackerjack performers dishing out more ham than a delicatessen, The Predator is an inflatable bounce house of pretend peril. There is certainly joy to be had there, but everyone jumping around in that playpen has an open jar of cheese dip in one hand and gushing meatbag of blood in the other. After a while, all you get is a fun mess.
The Hubble Space Telescope was the first victim (a nice f-you to science), but Logan co-star Boyd Holbrook’s Army Ranger Quinn McKenna stands tall as the sole survivor of the latest earthly encounter with a crashed Predator spacecraft and its powerful pilot. By the skin of his fallen comrades and his own teeth, he absconds with some advantageous alien gear that he ships from Mexico to his home for safe keeping. McKenna is pursued by Brown’s Will Traeger and his operation of exploitative agents and technicians, including Jake Busey’s Sean Keyes, the son of Gary Busey’s Peter Keyes from Predator 2, and Munn’s enlisted stargazing biologist Casey Brackett, looking to capture and study the invasive foe.
LESSON #1: DON’T CAPTURE WHAT YOU CAN’T CONTROL — From The Silence of the Lambs to Anaconda and everything in between, has there ever been one scene of the protagonists trying to contain the big baddie that doesn’t end in escape and slaughter? Ladies and gents, you have to do better than a heavy sedative and some measly straps on a lab table with this guy’s fanged mandible and sharpened claws.
When McKenna is brought in, he tossed into a prison bus and welcomed into the ne’er-do-wells of Group 2, the colorful lineup of jesters proudly wearing the self-embraced label of “The Loonies.” Between Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes, Comedy Central star Keegan Michael-Key, The Punisher’s Thomas Jane, Games of Thrones member Alfie Allen, and newcomer Augusto Aguilera, each are former military operatives with a hardware aisle of loose screws and university’s worth of smart mouths. They mobilize with McKenna when the extraterrestrial enemies target McKenna’s sharp and twitchy autistic spectrum son Rory (Wonder lead Jacob Tremblay) for cracking the received lingual technology.
LESSON #2: LOONIES ALWAYS SAY DIE — Let me tell you, these death wish clowns are a hoot and Shane Black is no stranger to witty and flighty zingers. Their one-liners and comebacks split sides right alongside the spilled entrails. If (more like when) any of them meet their demise, you know they’re going out with a blaze of balls and badinage. I’d pay money today to see a “Loonies” prequel tomorrow.
LESSON #3: YELLING “SHUT THE F — K UP” NEVER WORKS — As much as my frustration occasionally urges me to test this particular exclamation in the educational setting, just about any shouted phrase to gain silence and attention only irks the recipients to want to one-up the shouter with a louder reply and more nuisance. The key is follow through. In The Predator, the only way to get that desired silence after “shut the f — k up” is to make the air leave their lungs permanently, which is stupefyingly adorable to watch in a movie like this.
As riotously entertaining as this ensemble bounds and gurgles with glorious and exasperated profanity, they feel lifted from a different movie. On paper, this infusion of infectious comedy counts as a something devilishly new squeezed onto the Predator franchise from the joyless failures of its past. In execution, the actors are having a blast, right down to the F-bomb dropping Tremblay, but the absurdity takes away from nearly all possible mystery and suspense. That’s the wrong element to have missing as the thrills become empty. Speaking of Tremblay, this is the second Shane Black film in a row (after The Nice Guys) where the kid is the smartest person in the room and a vacuous waste of plot and time because of that fact. Lastly, in a flip from norm, the humans consequently amass the larger body count turning what should the the true threats, namely the interspace sportsmen, into afterthoughts in their own movie.
Adding those half-baked elements together creates bipolar results worse than the personalities of the unhinged characters. The Predator looks and halfway sounds like a proper Predator movie, especially when blockbuster composer Henry Jackman hammers in the old Alan Silvestri cues and motifs from the original musical suite. The camera work from returning Predator cinematographer Donald McAlpine is undone by dark lighting, jumbled framing, and haphazard hyper-editing. Too many scenes feel awkward in their own fluidity, much like the hulking costumed stunt work and semi-decent special effects. Shane Black is undeniably an electric writer and filmmaker and works well with loquacious content. It was novel to have him return to the brawny franchise he helped open as an actor 31 years ago, but his style doesn’t fit this combat boot.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#724)