A loose sequel to the original two films, Predators opens with a bang and immediately feels like a refreshingly smart reboot.
Movie review: Predators
Director: Nimrod Attal Starring: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace Launched in 1987 as an Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle, the Predator franchise was never much more than a glorified computer-game chase plot wrapped in B-movie sci-fi clothes. An Arnold-free sequel arrived in 1990, followed recently by two lowbrow spin-offs that brought the human-hunting extraterrestrial warriors into conflict with the super-sized killer lizards from Alien. Although the original was a reasonably well-respected cult movie, the ensuing series just got louder and sillier, and refused to die.
A loose sequel to the original two films, Predators opens with a bang and immediately feels like a refreshingly smart reboot. Adrien Brody's mercenary hero Royce wakes up in screaming freefall over a hostile jungle landscape, pulling his parachute just in time to avoid slamming into the rainforest below. He is soon joined by a motley gang of soldiers, assassins and dangerous criminals. None have any memory of how they got there, but they quickly figure out that they are prisoners on an alien world. All are former hunters, and now they are being hunted. "This planet is a game reserve, and we're the game," says Royce. After a great opening that feels like an early episode of Lost, except with high-tech weaponry and rampaging alien warthogs, the Hungarian-born horror director Nimrod Attal and the Texas-based producer Robert Rodriguez (best known for his Spy Kids series and Tarantino collaborations) cheerfully tick off every B-movie cliché in the manual. Token female action babe? Cue Alice Braga. Bookish wimp with murky secrets? That would be Topher Grace. Corny, cod-profound dialogue about the human condition? Check - every other line. Making his action hero debut, Brody is an unorthodox choice of headline star. Renowned for his Oscar-winning turn in The Pianist, the 37-year-old New Yorker brings a dash of indie-movie credibility to a project such as this. A bold and interesting piece of casting, but it barely registers since Brody's sensitive acting skills are buried completely in cartoon machismo. With his pumped-up physique and ridiculously gruff voice, he looks and sounds like Vin Diesel's lankier cousin, even if his gaunt face still retains a hint of haunted arthouse melancholy. The high benchmark for superior sci-fi sequels was set 24 years ago when James Cameron directed Aliens. The teasingly titled Predators initially seems to offer a similar retooled, revved-up makeover. Sadly, after a strong opening act, all the latent potential and tightly wound tension of its first 40 minutes begins to unravel. The rot sets in with Laurence Fishburne's surprise appearance, which slows down the action and borders on unintended comedy. Shock revelations about divided loyalties and double agents feel like illogical, superfluous plot devices. The final showdown between human survivors and dreadlock-headed predators seems muddled and anti-climactic, as if the filmmakers simply ran out of inspiration. Worst of all, the aliens remain virtually unchanged since the first film, lacking any extra element of fright or suspense. As ever, we learn nothing of their motives, their methods or their society. Predators is a decent thrill ride, but it lacks the necessary depth and originality to qualify as a great reinvention. * Stephen Dalton