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Rataouille
Five Hearts

"Good start. More, please."

Written by Steven Walker

Let’s get the history out of the way.  I think the original Predator is a perfect movie.  It delivers on every level it aims for and holds up to countless repeat viewings.  The Predator character is my favorite movie alien.  The very presence of a Predator on screen makes my geek sensors tingle and I am very forgiving of movies that feature him. 

Which means I also love Predator 2, even though I admit it is a loud, gaudy mess.  It expands the Predator’s arsenal and mythology in interesting ways.  Everything about the scene on board the Predator ship is golden to me.  Plus, it has Gary Busy getting sliced in half. 

Then there is Alien vs. Predator.  After years of reading many wonderful comics that pit those two monsters together, the studio easily picked the worst AVP story ever written to finally film.  The premise of the movie is so bad, so insulting to anyone that cares about real history or the continuity of either franchise that I wish I could purge it from the collective conscious.  It does have worthy moments and watching the Queen Alien run around like a pissed off T-Rex is awesome…but the big picture of the movie is a complete failure.  Oh, and all the human characters are garbage.  Completely unmemorable wastes of screen time.

AVP: Requiem is a fun 30 minute short film about an elite Predator sent to clean up the mess from the first AVP.  Pity there is a full hour of screen time wasted on teen-angst drama so underwritten and out of place as to be more unintentionally hilarious than half the comedies released this century. 

Finally we arrive at Predators.  I walked out the theater with a big geeky grin on my face, knowing that I really enjoyed it but probably shouldn’t think about it too much.  Now a few days later I have thought about it too much, but I still really like it.  Some details really bother me, but the big picture of the film is a knock-out and the humans are actually worth watching. 

The biggest criticism I have heard leveled against the film is that it brings nothing new to table.  Too much screen time is spent watching the humans try to figure out the mystery of what is going while we, the audience, already know before the title even comes up.  This is mostly true, but it doesn’t bother me because I happen to really enjoy watching characters trying to figure out the rules of fantasy/sci-fi situations, even if I already know them.  To me, the Predator character was so tarnished by the AVP films that going back to basics in an attempt to restore credibility is more than acceptable. 

Next up is the critique that the alien planet is not alien enough.  This one I can’t help but agree with.  I’ve watched enough Lost over the past six years to recognize Hawaii when I see it on film.  A character even identifies a plant that becomes important later.  There are only two explanations: 1) The Predators have transplanted a huge amount of Earth flora and fauna to their game preserve for inexplicable reasons.  2) It is bad writing.  I think I’ll pick door #2, Bob.

I really enjoy the moment when everyone sees the alien sky.  I love seeing characters undeniably confronted with the fantastic.  It also has a terrific music cue behind it from John Debney.  Cool as the moment is, though, it has two huge problems:  1) (As pointed out by my colleague John Gholson) If there were really multiple celestial bodies in the sky, they would have been visible just by looking up at any time.  The forest they are in is not exactly draped in canopy. 2) Based on my admittedly amateur knowledge of cosmology, I do not believe a planet so near to other large planets would have gravity or lighting conditions even remotely comparable to Earth.

That said, many classic sci-fi movies (such as the original Star Wars trilogy) have gotten away with a complete disregard for physics and astronomy.      

Finally, I have read a lot of reviews that mention how the film loses its way in the final act.  I honestly don’t know what they are talking about.  I’ve seen a lot of films lose it in the last 20 minutes but Predators is not one of them.  I found the final sequences to be very exciting.  I thought the deal Adrien Brody made with the captive Predator was a more believable partnership than the one in AVP.  I geeked out in a serious way to the Predator on Predator fight and I really loved Brody’s final battle with the jaw-bone Pred.

Come to think of it, I loved Adrien Brody all the way through.  He had a great, no-nonsense intensity about him that stayed consistent all the way through.  I believed him enough that he carried me through things that would not have worked with a lesser actor.  The only downside was that his motivation never evolved beyond self-preservation.  In the original movie, Dutch lost his entire team.  There was a palpable bond between those guys, and so when the time came for Dutch to go one on one with the Pred, it was personal in a way the audience fully sympathized with.  Dutch didn’t care about survival anymore.  He wanted revenge.

Sadly the stakes never really become personal for any of the characters in this film.  Theoretically they do for the sniper-lady in the final act, but she spends most of that time paralyzed so it doesn’t really register.

Despite that, the characters in the film are actually interesting. They never feel quite as real as the team from the original, and they are decidedly one-dimensional, but overall I was surprised how engaged I was by their interaction.  I was irritated that I came away not remembering anyone’s name, but that may have been by design.  My favorite of the bunch was the Yakuza.  He had me at hello with the bit where he takes his shoes off.  His only dialogue was really fun and it made me want to know more about his history.  His duel with the wolf Predator was probably the highlight of the film for me.  Yes, it was a little too blatant of a homage to Billy’s exit from the first film, but at least this time they showed us the whole fight.     

I loved the idea of Lawrence Fishburn’s character, but he dies in such an uninspired way that it really undermined his presence in the story.

I enjoyed Topher Grace way more than I thought I would.  He was just believable enough and I actually liked his character twist quite a bit.  I didn’t see it coming and I do feel it makes sense for the Predators to choose him.  A lot of people thought it was stupid, though, so your mileage may vary. 

The convict played by Walter Goggins was fun.  He had the most awkward scene (Rape joke, anyone?), and the best death by far.  Incidentally, Goggins sounds like the name of a convict character.  Certainly more memorable than whatever his name was supposed to be in the movie.  I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he was listed in the credits as “Convict.” 

The other characters fail to really register but are still distinct.  The weakest link is the sniper-lady who seems to be here just to have a girl in the movie.  Alice Braga’s acting was serviceable, but her role was not.

This is not a great film, nor an instant classic like the first one, but I found it to be a worthy part 3 in the franchise.  In fact, I would say Predators is a much more satisfying part 3 than Alien 3, even though Nimrod Antal is no David Fincher. 

Besides, the entire movie is about watching the Predators toy with their prey on their own terms.  If you like these characters on any level, you should eat this up.

 

 

 

Copyright 2008 Flaming Heart Enterprises, L.L.C.