The summer of shit continues. As I sat through Predators, the latest sequel to the Predator franchise, I got to wondering what story possibilities this concept really holds. The basic premise is very simple: A ‘predator’ is an alien being that lives to hunt. Success in life amounts to how many kills a predator can amass. The alien design is not particularly cool (they wear dreads and their mouths look like vaginas) and the only thing that makes them interesting is their body suits and cloaking device. We don’t really know anything about these aliens and the films have never given us any background information on them to make us give a shit about where they come from. When you get right down to it, they’re just one-note monsters in the same vein as Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers and as such, the possibilities for sequels are severely limited.

However, if you are going to do a sequel I suppose the idea for this latest incarnation is the next logical step for the franchise. The idea is based off of ‘The Most Dangerous Game,’ which seems perfectly geared to be adapted to a Predator story. The filmmakers decided to pretty much take the first (and only successful movie in the franchise) movie and set it on an alien planet. Our band of protagonists find themselves on an alien planet that’s used as one huge hunting ground by the predators. The question quickly becomes how do they survive and how do they get off the planet?

Despite its unoriginality, a straightforward narrative like this one fits the simplicity of the basic premise. ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ has always been one of my favorite stories and to see a Predator story adapted to it is a bit cool. However, other from the hunting preserve/alien planet aspect of the story, the remainder of this film has been completely lifted from the first movie. The filmmakers are clearly trying to replicate the success of the first Predator and decided to tweak it a little and present the audience with a repackaged version of the same film. However, Robert Rodriguez, the producer, and Nimrod Antal, the director, have missed the boat. I like to think that the creative talent involved here had enough imagination to expand upon the ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ and given us something more different and exciting. Considering that an entire planet is a hunting preserve, we should have seen different sorts of physical environments like snow, ocean, desert, etc. All we get is a jungle (again) and the inside of an alien ship, which looks like a poor-man’s version of the ship in Aliens. It would have been cool to have seen other human survivors who have formed some sort of underground rag-tag rebellion group. These are just some ideas off the top of my head so I’m sure much better ones exist to have made this film work better.

There were a lot of worries in fanboydom about the casting of Adrien Brody in the lead role. I thought it was a great idea precisely because of his non-action star attributes. Aside from his strange adoption of a gravely voice that reminded me of Christian Bale’s voice in Dark Knight, Brody does a great job playing a bad-ass. I never questioned whether he could take on the predators or take charge of his group. He’s definitely no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that’s precisely why I thought Brody was well cast. I wanted to see someone who doesn’t match the physicality of the aliens; someone who looks utterly outmatched by them. Brody is forced to use his brains instead of muscle to outwit and beat the aliens. In addition, having someone like Brody, who looks weak, in charge raises the stakes of the danger the characters are in because they don’t have the brawn of an Arnold Schwarzenegger to protect them.

The remainder of the casting was a little hit or miss with me. It was fun to see Danny Trejo (starring in the upcoming Machete) and his twin Uzi’s in the movie as well as Louis Ozawa Changchien as a Yakuza operative and Laurence Fishburne as a crazed human survivor. These characters add diversity to the group. Unfortunately, Trejo and Fishburne are not in the movie for very long, which was a huge disappointment considering how much they add to the film. Some might fault Fishburne for his over-the-top acting, but c’mon, this is Predator, not Remains of the Day. As for Changchien, having a Yakuza operative in a world like this is straight-up comic book and something fanboys will totally dig. My only issue with his character is the samurai showdown he has with one of the predators in a field of grass. I thought this scene was ridiculous, not to mention badly staged in terms of action.

The rest of the characters felt too generic and uninteresting to care about. Some of this is due to the bad (and at times horrible) dialogue and the rest is simply poor character development. Alice Braga fails to convince me that she’s a soldier. She doesn’t have the tough girl qualities that Michelle Rodriguez has in Avatar or Jenette Goldstein had in Aliens as Vasquez. Braga reminds me of a Peace Corp volunteer who barely knows how to hold a gun. What most disappointed me about the characters is that the most annoying and worst character of the film is one of the last remaining characters left alive. At one time I had high hopes for Topher Grace’s career, especially after I had seen him in In Good Company. After seeing him in Spider-Man 3 and this film, I am convinced that he should only play characters who get killed after no more than 1 second of screen time. Any more screen time and the actor risks ruining the entire movie. The twist in his character is a little cool, albeit a bit too Scooby-Doo for me, but his constant whining and very unfunny dialogue was enough to make me cringe every time I saw him appear onscreen.

I mentioned the bad dialogue that Predators contains. Action movies are not usually known for sharp, insightful dialogue, but at least they’re not usually bad enough to make you notice how poorly written they are. Much of the dialogue here is the kind of crap you hear in video game cinematic scenes. I guess the filmmakers determined that audiences might not get that many of our characters are soldiers and mercenaries so they better amp up the gung-ho vocabulary to really drive it home.

If you’ve ever seen Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado, El Mariachi, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, you know that the one thing the director can pull off is staging action. I know he didn’t direct Predators, but I refuse to believe that he didn’t have some sort of creative control over the film. I was surprised by how unexciting the action scenes in this movie were. At times, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. The action doesn’t feel fluid and kinetic and you don’t get a sense of place when the characters are battling the predators. Good action scenes establish the physical setting that the characters are going to play in. Here, you don’t get that and consequently, the action isn’t very clear nor does it feel engaging.

You can tell Predators tries very hard to be a good movie. Its certainly better than Predator 2 and the two Aliens v. Predator films, but that’s not saying a whole lot because those were all awful pieces of shit to begin with. This movie could have been very good even with the script that it had. I almost wish that Rodriguez had directed the movie himself even though he’s never impressed me with his post-Desperado work. For the few good things it has going for it, Predators is weighed down by a lot of inconsistencies and unimaginative storytelling and direction.

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