The strapping beastie of the "Predator" franchise remains pretty much the same after 23 years — dread of lock, moist of mandible. It's the humans in his life who seem to have devolved. In the first film, his chief antagonist was played by that pre-gubernatorial muscle-mountain, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, in
"Predators" is a B movie that knows its job, and does it. Which means, among other things, that making sense is not on its to-do list. The picture opens with a group of people falling from the sky into a jungle. What are they doing here? None of them knows. One minute each of them was sleeping, the next they were plummeting through the clouds. That's that. Where are they? The group's lone woman, Isabelle (Alice Braga), looks around suspiciously. "I've never seen this jungle," she says. "And I've seen most." Isabelle hails from Guatemala, where she no doubt saw quite a bit of jungle, but has lately been employed as a sniper by the Israeli Defense Force, whose missions are not often thought to be jungle-related. But whatever.
The movie germinated from an unproduced 1994 script by pulp fan Robert Rodriguez (one of the producers here), which was more recently refined by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch. Faced with the challenge of revitalizing a creature that has already been the subject of four previous films (if you count two trans-franchise dalliances with the slobbery Alien), they and director Nimród Antal have come up with a clever plot hook. The humans — who include among them a black-ops mercenary, a drug-gang enforcer, an African warlord, a Russian soldier, a mass murderer and a Yakuza killer — are all predators back on their home planet. Well, except for one, who's a doctor. (Another clever plot wrinkle.)
Anyway, they're all prey on this strange planet, which turns out to be an off-world hunting ground for Predators, whose day-trip spacecraft is invisibly parked nearby. As you'd expect, the picture consists — with the exception of a visit to a batty survivor played by Laurence Fishburne — of each of the human interlopers being put away like finger food by the wily monsters. Fortunately, the cast, which is better than you'd expect, makes this an enjoyable exercise. Topher Grace, as the doctor, is a fine sufferer, and Walton Goggins, as the mass murderer (fresh from Death Row), brings the same redneck flair to his role that he does to the hillbilly schemer he plays on "Justified." The effects are also first-rate. We've seen the nasty-looking Predators before, of course, but there's a new creature on the scene — a vicious, tusky attack beast (it's like a cross between a wild boar and a Doberman) — that enlivens the action memorably.
The movie remains boldly nonsensical throughout — would we have it any other way? How likely is it, for example, that the Japanese Yakuza guy (Louis Ozawa Changchien) would just happen to find a samurai sword lying around on the alien planet? (What next, we don't wonder.) And there's a wonderful moment when the exasperated Brody walks right up to one of the Predators and says, "I want off this planet!" Then, as an afterthought, he says, "You understand me, don't you?" As if it mattered.
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