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New Release Review - THE PREDATOR

the predator review
A scientist and a gang of mentally disturbed soldiers battle a newly evolved version of the Predator.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Shane Black

Starring: Olivia Munn, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen

the predator poster


The Predator is Hollywood's latest attempt to cash-in on the current vogue for all things 1980s, and in an attempt to recapture the spirit of that most excessive of decades, they've gone and recruited one of the writers most responsible for defining the '80s action movie. As a young scribe, Shane Black's uncredited rewriting work led to him penning quip heavy scripts for the likes of the first two Lethal Weapon movies, The Last Boy Scout and The Last Action Hero, making him the first screenwriter to earn the sort of fees usually reserved for movie stars. In recent years he's established himself as a competent director, with Iron Man 3 (still the best Marvel movie to date) and the nostalgia-heavy The Nice Guys. Considering he was on the set of 1987's Predator as a standby re-writer and even appeared in a small but memorable role in the film, he seems the perfect choice to revitalise the long ailing franchise. With Fred Dekker (whom Black co-wrote The Monster Squad with back in the day) on board as co-writer, The Predator should be a winner. But it's not. Oh boy, is it not.

Boyd Holbrook gets a rare leading man role as Quinn McKenna, a Special Forces soldier whose squad is wiped out while investigating a UFO crash site in mexico. The craft belongs to the titular alien, and in a rare nice visual touch, the dripping blood of one of its victims draws an outline on the Predator's invisibility shield. McKenna flees, but not without taking the alien's discarded helmet and bracelet with him, which he has mailed back to the US, where it falls into the hands of his young autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). When Rory dons the helmet, and somehow activates it with his Hollywood autism superpowers (ugh), its signal is picked up by another Predator out in space, this one a bigger, more evolved alien, who travels to Earth with a pack of Predator dogs in tow.

the predator review

Meanwhile, a shady government agency led by agent Will Traeger (a creepy Sterling K. Brown in an all too underdeveloped role) has captured the original Predator from the Mexico site, and has brought in 'space animal' expert Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to check out the specimen ("You're one beautiful motherfucker," she remarks in a cheeky callback upon first glimpsing the creature). Needless to say, the alien escapes and runs amok. Amid the chaos, Bracket finds herself in tow with McKenna, who has now joined up with a dirty half dozen of mentally disturbed soldiers.

A retired projectionist once confessed to me that back in the days of 35mm projection, if a film ran over a certain length he would cut out scenes so as to ensure the evening's final screening would wrap up in time for him to catch a late pint at the pub next door. Early on in The Predator I began to wonder if said projectionist had been hired to edit Black's film. It's been well publicised that one particular scene was excised after it was revealed that a bit part actor involved was a registered sex offender, but it's clear to anyone who watches The Predator that it's but one of several key scenes left on the cutting room floor.

The first time this becomes obvious is when McKenna entrusts what seems to be a random Mexican bartender with the task of mailing the Predator's equipment back to the US. You're forced to assume a scene establishing the relationship between the two men hasn't made the cut, and its deletion is just the first of many head-scratching moments. When the captured Predator goes on its violent rampage, it spares the life of one major character. We're left thinking "that's odd," but assuming it will be explained later - it isn't! At one point a formerly terrifying Predator dog turns up at the side of one of our heroes, now as harmless as a Labrador pup, and again we can't help but feel there's a missing scene explaining how the character was able to win over the canine killer. Later, our heroes conveniently escape a warzone when a character turns up out of the blue piloting a weather channel's helicopter, with no explanation of how he got his hands on such a vehicle. The list goes on. Perhaps a director's cut on the DVD will make more sense, but the cut being released in cinemas is a nonsensical mess.

the predator review

The truth is, however, that even if the plot made more sense, Black's film would still be a major disappointment. Black's trademark wit is barely to be found here, and when it does appear it often feels jarring with the explicit violence on display. With The Monster Squad, Black and Dekker created a charming pastiche to the classic Universal monsters, but The Predator feels like this franchise's version of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The monster is pretty much the same as he's always been, but he now has to fight for screen time with annoying comic relief characters.

And they don't come much more annoying than "The Loonies," the Cuckoo's Nest style gang of sectioned soldiers Bracket and McKenna find themselves lumbered with. The only real purpose they serve is to be the butt of outdated and mean-spirited jokes at the expense of mental health and PTSD - Thomas Jane's Baxley is a tourette's sufferer who comes off as a cheap device to throw about expletives; Trevante Rhodes' Nebraska is (yikes!) prone to suicide attempts; Keegan-Michael Key's Coyle is an unfunny update of the jokester Black himself played in the '87 original; while Alfie Allen's Lynch doesn't seem to have any defining traits save for an offensive 'Oirish' accent. You'll find yourself in the uncomfortable position of wishing the Predator would kill a bunch of mentally ill veterans as quickly as possible.

the predator review

As an action flick, The Predator is a damp squib. The few set-pieces we get rely heavily on gore rather than any visual creativity, reminding us that the film is helmed by a filmmaker more renowned for his words than his images. The new super-Predator (no, not that type Hillary) is a bit like the new Death Star in the recent Star Wars movies - just because it's bigger doesn't make it any more impressive than the original version.

John McTiernan's '87 original employed a simple formula - place a small group of protagonists in a relatively confined location with a killer that seems impossible to defeat and let mayhem ensue, a premise he would reverse to great effect in the following year's Die Hard - but Black's sequel is anything but simple; it's an overly-complicated shambles that suffers from too many characters, a lack of a clearly defined villain (I never did figure out if the film wanted us to view the Predator or Brown's slimy agent as the ultimate antagonist), and confusing character beats that suggest Black's film was taken out of his hands and butchered into a two hour timeslot with scant regard for plot coherence. The hunt for a worthy followup to McTiernan's '80s action staple goes on.

The Predator is in UK/ROI cinemas now.




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