Unexpectedly full of laughs
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, July 9, 2010
It's hard to take "Predators" terribly seriously.
And no, it has nothing to do with the fact that Adrien Brody plays the action hero. The soulful, slightly scrawny, yet eccentrically handsome star -- whose last major movie, "Fantastic Mr. Fox," featured him in the role of Rickity the Field Mouse -- is hardly known for playing Schwarzenegger-style muscle men. Still he acquits himself well as the de facto leader of a bunch of terrestrial tough guys who have been mysteriously transported to an alien game preserve, where they must use their wits and survival skills to avoid being killed by the same bloodthirsty critters that first stalked Ah-nuld in the 1987 "Predator."
Rather, the difficulty in keeping a straight face with this movie -- the fifth in the "Predator" franchise -- has more to do with just how much fun it seems to be having with, let's face it, its pretty silly premise.
The giggles start from the get-go as black-ops agent Royce (Brody) is seen hurtling pell-mell through the sky, screaming like a baby after being air-dropped from a plane into an unfamiliar jungle. When his parachute finally opens, he lands with a thud next to seven other battle-hardened warriors, including: a Russian soldier (Oleg Taktarov); an enforcer for a Mexican drug cartel (Danny Trejo); a member of a Sierra Leone death squad (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali); a Japanese mobster (Louis Ozawa Changchien); a convicted murderer and rapist (Walton Goggins); and a token female G.I. (Alice Braga). Oh, yeah, there's also a doctor (Topher Grace -- yeah, that Topher Grace). For the longest time, Royce/Brody can't seem to figure out what he's doing in this movie, other than providing comic relief.
Are you laughing yet?
You will be. But in a good way. Stylishly directed by Nimród Antal ("Control") and produced by Robert Rodriguez ("Planet Terror"), "Predators" is good if gory grindhouse fun. It tweaks the conventions of the summer monster movie, even as it observes them.
That's not to say it isn't scary. It delivers the standard chills and thrills that one expects from the genre. And there are at least a couple of twists, including the surprise appearance of an actor who shall remain nameless. Trust me, it's better that way.
It also, unfortunately, delivers the familiar illogic and cliches of its ilk. "We've got to conserve ammunition," says Royce, right after everyone in the group has unloaded an armory's worth of bullets into a pack of alien hunting dogs that look sort of like Gru's pooch in "Despicable Me," only meaner.
Then there's the convict. Armed with nothing but a tiny, presumably homemade shiv, and dressed in a bright orange prison jumpsuit, he's like walking alien bait. The question isn't whether he'll bite the big one, but when. As for the rest of the cast, half the pleasure is guessing who'll die next.
It's not all fun and games, though. Writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch make a half-hearted attempt to philosophize about Man's predatory nature. "We're the monsters of our own world," says Braga's Isabelle to Royce, during one of the film's quiet moments.
In the end, however, the film's perverse party spirit wins out over any pretentious hoo-ha. How do we know the whole thing's meant to be a hoot? The closing credits roll over a rollicking recording of Little Richard singing "Long Tall Sally," a barnburner that includes the exhortation "Have some fun tonight."
I suggest you let go, and listen to the man.
Contains sexual humor, a drug reference, frequent obscenity and prodigious amounts of violence, gore and alien goo.