Saturday, July 10, 2010


- While watching the new Predator film, I had to stop and ask myself: are legit badasses a dying breed in Hollywood? I think back to the original Predator - an action movie classic to be sure - and I think how awesome and charismatic its squadron of heroes was - then and now. Schwarzenegger. Ventura. Weathers. Man, even today, watching Predator, those guys feel like real-life comic book characters. They are larger than life, full of attitude and swagger, and ready to kick ass at a moment's notice. Do guys like that even exist anymore? Is there anyone under the age of 40 who can still pull off that old-school style of badassery? Have humans just become wussier as a species, to the point where we no longer produce alpha males who can stand toe to toe with the bandana-sporting, cigar-chomping, mustache-clad likes of Jesse "The Body" Ventura? Sometimes people talk about the good old days, when men were men. Well, watch Predator, then watch Predators, and you might find yourself waxing nostalgic. Because, yes, we've gone from Arnold to Adrian. We've got middle-aged Danny Trejo out-badassing everyone else in the movie, lending credence to the theory that true kickass action heroes are an endangered species in Hollywood. We've got a fine actor in the aforementioned Adrian Brody in the lead role, but this may be a tragic case of miscasting, because Brody tries to be an uber-badass hybrid of Arnie and Christian Bale, and mostly just comes off as unintentionally comical. I'll get more into the nitty-gritty of Predators in a moment, but bear with me as I focus on the bigger picture here for a second. The fact is, all of us twenty-somethings look back on those old 80's action flicks with a degree of ironic appreciation. I mean, in a way, the classic arm-wrestling handshake scene from Predator is flat-out hilarious. The fact that Predator played it completely straight, without a dose of irony, seems crazy when viewed from our modern lense. It's like a scene from a Saturday morning cartoon that was somehow transposed into an R-rated action/horror movie. AND YET ... as much as we may laugh at a scene like that, in our heart of hearts, we love it, because the iconic greeting between Schwarzenegger and Weathers was, in its own, semi-goofy way, completely and unironically awesome. The ten year old kid in my brain says "ho-lee crap, the two most awesome forces on the planet have just *joined forces* -- they are going to kick some ass, Megapowers-style. So my question is -- will we ever get back to that? Will we as a moviegoing society ever be able to just enjoy unironically over-the-top, Predator-style action again? Or will every action movie from this point forward either be a dark, gritty, joyless experience meant for the too-cool-for-school crowd, or a hip-to-the-joke, dripping-with-ironic-humor "homage" to movie days gone by? I ask because Predators has some really fun moments. It has some cool action. But what it's missing is that "awesome-factor" of the original, that fantasy-fulfillment factor. Will any twelve year old boy walk away from this movie wanting to be as cool as Adrian Brody's character? Will we be quoting this movie for years to come? Will there be iconic images forever etched in our heads? Most importantly, did I walk out of Predators feeling like a badass, feeling like more of a man, wanting to go around saying awesome things like "I ain't got time to bleed?" I did not. But I didn't really expect to, because movies just aren't made like that anymore, and we are experiencing a major shortage of directors who possess that old-school sense of showmanship, of actors who can deliver a badass one-liner with just the right amount of oomph. The premise of Predators is cool enough that it could have been something really memorable. As it stands, it's a decently fun movie, but one that will make you long for the days when, well, when men were men ... dammit all.

Predators actually starts out with a lot of promise. We're instantly catapulted into the action, as we follow Adrian's Brody's initially-unnamed character - an ex-military blackops guy - as he plummets from the sky towards unfamiliar ground. A parachute opens up in the nick of time, but the trouble is just beginning. Brody finds himself surrounded by a motley crew of roughnecks - one of the FBI's most wanted, a female IDF soldier, a leader of a Mexican drug cartel, etc. At first, nobody knows where they are or why they're there, but it's not long before they are able to get a pretty good idea. Eventually, this much becomes clear: they're on an alien planet, essentially the Predators' version of a big game preserve. The humans were sent there to be hunted for sport, and their chances for survival against one of cinema's most famous monsters look slim.

It's weird, because even if it doesn't have a singular action-hero presence on the level of Ah-nald, Predators has its share of kickass actors. Aside from Brody, you've got Danny Trejo, the man soon to be Machete, who is, as always, a walking pile of awesome. You've got Walter Goggins, who has been ruling it on Justified as of late, who brings that same unhinged charisma here (and man, if they ever need someone new to play The Joker ...). And then there's Laurence Fishburne, who entertainingly gives the movie an injection of gravitas when he surfaces midway through the film.

All of these actors have a long history of genre-specific greatness, and yet, the relatively weak script is what kills the movie's initial momentum. We get excited when we see the likes of Trejo, Goggins, and Fishburne, but then their characters turn out to be nothing special - one-note, boring, and with barely a memorable line of dialogue between them. Okay, Goggins gets in a couple of zingers and Fishburne's initial entrance is cool ... but the characters are just never all that likable or fun. A movie like this practically demands, above all else, that you have awesome characters and in turn great character moments. There aren't enough of them in Predator. It also doesn't help that, like I said, Adrian Brody just seems goofy, with his Christian Bale-as-Batman voice and chiseled physique oddly matched with his nerdy features. I thought Brody might have more of a Jeff Goldblum-in-Jurassic Park sort of role - I didn't realize he was being set up as the second coming of Schwarzenegger. And then there's Topher Grace, who does a nice job as a sort of comedic foil. The problem is that his character arc is pretty cringe-worthy, and the various twists revolving around his character deliver some of the movie's weakest moments.

There are some real bright spots though. A couple of cool action set pieces. A geek-out worthy, videogame-style fight between a sword-wielding Yakuza boss and a blade-sportin' Predator, that's basically absurd, yet undeniably fun-as-all-hell. There are a couple of nice tributes to the original, including some backstory that directly ties this movie into the 1987 version. There's an excellent score that often evokes the original's mood-setting tones. In some respects, Predators is just plain refreshing in a summer of mostly mediocrity. It's one of those films that doesn't aspire to much except to entertain and kick ass - and it is a pretty consistently entertaining little film, I'll give it that.

At the same time, you think back to the original and you have to remember just how epic it was. The predator was built up as the ultimate threat - the fact that one monster singlehandedly took out several top-tier badasses made the final showdown between Arnie and the beast that much more intense. Here, it felt like too much videogame shoot-em-up culture had seeped its way into the film. What I mean is, while the original built and built towards the main event smackdown, this one has predators, super-predators, badly-CGI'd alien dog things, all coming at the lead characters in a nonstop barrage. It also feels too easy to take out the Predators - as tough as they are, it takes a whole legion of them to take on this squad of killers. In this movie, the predators feel less like the enigmatic big bad of the original and more like characters from the latest Mortal Kombat game.

Predators is a lot of fun. It has that anything-goes, B-movie feel that makes it ideal for seeing in a crowded theater full of hyped-up fanboys. It has enough crowd-pleasing moments that I'd say yes, it's worth checking out if you're a fan of the franchise. But, the script, the cinematography, the characters, the humor, the overall awesome-factor - the movie comes up short in these categories, especially as compared to the 80's classic which the film pays so much homage to. It's too bad, because with the premise, the cast, and the behind-the-scenes talent on hand, there was some real potential for this to be a win of epic proportions. And yes, there are some buzz-worthy moments and scenes that give glimpses of the badassery that could have been. But ... a cinematical tyranasaur, this ain't.

My Grade: B

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