Stronger drugs, meaner guns and a bigger hole in the ozone plague 1997 Los Angeles, the soot- and crime-darkened setting for the terrifying blood riot that is "Predator 2." The latest in the all-American urban rot genre, this magilla of a thriller offers more familiar fireworks from the zealous producers of "Predator," "Die Hard" and "48 HRS." And though Schwarzeneggerless, the sequel finds a new lethal weapon in Danny Glover.
Glover, an actor before he went to the gym, brings an unusual depth to the action adventure and proves fiercely effective as the Predator's new nemesis, Lt. Harrigan. A bullet-headed vice cop, he is leading his team -- Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso and Bill Paxton -- in a losing war on drugs when the mysterious alien intervenes. Drawn to violence, the voracious Predator begins to do away with the Hispanic and Jamaican drug lords. One by one the officers find them skinned, skewered and strung from the rafters like beef carcasses.
The grisly murders are first attributed to a Jamaican voodoo gang led by the ganja-smoking King Willie (Calvin Lockhart), but when his men also turn up gutted, a ranting TV reporter (typecast Morton Downey Jr.) invents "the psycho vigilante killer." All Lt. Harrigan knows is that something has murdered one of his partners and run off with his skull and spinal column.
Vowing to avenge his buddy's death, Harrigan goes up against not only the Predator but also FBI Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey), a scientist who has been tailing it for the past 10 years. When Harrigan's superiors confirm Keyes's jurisdiction over the case, the hard-hitting hero just takes off his badge and straps on a couple more guns. What else is a hero to do?
Though Kevin Peter Hall is reprising the Predator's role, he is not really the same light-beam-bending being who menaced Schwarzenegger's commandos. James and John Thomas, who created the bother from another planet, have devised a younger, more arrogant critter this episode. A showboat and a bully, the Predator foolishly challenges Harrigan, who beards it in its lair, a spaceship that looks like the work of Aztec engineers.
The script, written by the Thomas brothers, is calculated mayhem, filled with the dismal irony of "RoboCop" and the brooding fatalism of "Blade Runner." Beautifully outfitted and moodily photographed, the movie is directed by Stephen Hopkins, the Jamaican-born Australian responsible for "Nightmare on Elm Street V." He keeps the pedal to the metal but never allows the explosive action to minimize his actors.
Preceded by an electronic hiss and a hallucinatory wobble, the Predator makes a marvelous monster. Maybe this is a sign of the times: It may be real ugly, but it's anti-drugs, pro-gun control and does nothing to harm the environment. Still, let's just hope it isn't pregnant.
Predator 2, at area theaters, is rated R for extreme violence.