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After several half-hearted entries into the Predator franchise, director Nimrod Antal finally adds a new film that is worthy of the original Predator. Special forces badass 'Royce' (a buffed up Adrien Brody) awakens in freefall. A strange harness deploys a parachute just in time to land him safely. He soon discovers that other dangerous people have been dropped onto an alien planet that serves as a not-so-Happy Hunting Grounds. A yakuza enforcer, the FBI's most-wanted serial killer, an Israeli sniper, the requisite hulking Russian, a Mexican drug cartel thug and a Muslim death-squad trooper from the Sudan round out the cast. Also, Topher Grace is here as a medical doctor who has no idea how (or why) he was included.

The original Predator (singular) featured Arnold Schwarzenaegger as the sole survivor of a team of special forces soldiers hunted down by an alien hunter. In the same way that Aliens improved on the original by pluralizing the title, Predators hopes to provoke excitement by upping the ante.

The ensemble cast helps, and the change of setting is interesting, but Predators doesn't deliver much that is very new. We learn more about the race of alien hunters, namely, that there are two different kinds of predators. One is smaller and may be more amenable to thinking of humans as more than just prey to be hunted, and the other subspecies is larger and more dangerous. Lawrence Fishburne (in a too-short cameo as an abductee who has survived by hiding from the predators for about a decade) remarks, "There are two kinds of those things -- some are like wolves, others are more like dogs."

Aside from that new morsel of information about the alien hunters there's not much that is new. But the original visceral concepts in Predator worked, and they still work here. Sadly, no new predator 'gadgets' are introduced. This is an action movie, and the action is great -- including a finale that mimics the human-ingenuity-versus-alien-hunter from the original, with Brody showing off his six-pack. It's not terribly inventive, as it follows the familiar tropes of the original:

  • the gruesome sight of human bodies strung up like deer. Check!
  • the 'mystic' of the group of humans (the yakuza this time around, instead of 'Billie' the Native American from the original film) bravely standing his ground with only a knife -- or this time around, just a samurai sword. Check!
  • The humans rush headlong over a cliff and fall into a lake. Check!

For fans of the original it will seem as though the screenwriter had a check list of scenes and ideas that had to be checked off like a grocery list of 'must-haves'. There's more comedy in Predators than in the original, most of it coming from Stans (perfectly played by Walton Goggins), a serial killer who was on death row before being taken by the alien hunters. After the hundredth time that the rag-tag band of humans pulls their guns at a forbidding sound, Stans draws his tiny shiv and freaks out, since everyone else is carrying a high-tech weapon of some kind, declaring, "Ok, I want a gun. Now."

Later, when they have escaped from the latest trap, he lays back and ponders what he'll do when he gets back to Earth, humorously declaring that he'll go on a raping rampage. Andrea Dworkin will be pleased when he receives a laser-blast to the back not long afterwards.

Some of the violence is extremely gory -- spinal columns are ripped out, heads are lopped off and the Russian Murder Machine uses a claymore to detonate himself. It's standard summer movie fun, but the acting was surprisingly good. None of the characters felt like cardboard cutouts; audiences will end up hoping they survive.

About the only silly aspect of the script is the fact that no one wonders about the inclusion of Edwin (Topher Grace), who's suitably noodlely and wimpy. He's a medical doctor and therefore makes medical assessments ("That almost hit your femoral artery!") but compared to everyone else he's no soldier. Everyone else is a murderer, a soldier, a hit-man or some dangerous permutation of those roles. Why is he on the planet? The answer will be obvious to audiences eventually, but the fact that the others don't wonder seems strained to me.

Brody doesn't completely live up to the role of a badass. For some reason he just doesn't look the part. He's very muscular here, and clearly worked hard to fill out the role but he just doesn't convince as an action hero. I don't know if it's because he has a sensitive-looking face. His acting is great -- his character is distinctly different from Arnold Schwarzenaegger's role as 'Dutch'. Brody's Royce is callous and insensitive with no allegiance except to himself. Royce delivers no Arnold-like one-liners and he doesn't cry out, "Ged to da choppa!" -- in fact he tries to steal the 'choppa' for himself! Brody's acting is superb as always but he's somewhat miscast here.

The predatory aliens themselves look a lot better here than in the other films (especially the Alien Vs. Predator series of films) because you don't see them nearly as much, and when you do, they don't look like rubber suits.

Predators works because it delivers what the original film did: gritty action, shocks and surprises and believable characters. It also ends in a way that leaves plenty of room for more sequels. Oh, and by the way, the scene from the trailer in which Brody's character ends up with dozens of laser targeting points on his body -- it's not in the movie.

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