Film review: ‘The Predator’
After a series of poor test screenings, the climax of “The Predator” was reshot, though the ending is only relevant if you haven’t already walked out in the first execrable hour.
Given director Shane Black’s background in making dumb ‘80s movies - the writing credit on “Lethal Weapon” remains his calling card - he’s attempted to craft a throwback to the 1987 Schwarzenegger “Predator” here. But, in spite of the additional gravitas he got from appending “The” to the title, Black has failed. Indeed, across 30 years of writing and directing, he has yet to be associated with a good film (not that that has impacted his employability in the slightest).
At any rate, the newest Predator arrives after losing an intergalactic battle and crash landing on Earth. The squid-faced alien dripping ecto green slime stumbles out of the woods and into the crosshairs of Army Ranger Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who gives that most American of instructions: “Light it up.”
After barely escaping the ensuing fight with his life, McKenna mails his trophies - an alien helmet and wrist guard - to his estranged wife and son. As one does. Young Rory (Jacob Tremblay) is on the autism spectrum which, as usual in Hollywood, defines his character. His preternatural gift for language becomes a plot key - he learns to communicate in alien and the Predator picks him as his prey.
Meanwhile, the senior McKenna is compelled to ride the short bus to prison with a band of soldiers suffering from PTSD (and various other character actor maladies). The first guy he speaks with is Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes) Why Nebraska? Because his given name is Gaylord. Hah. McKenna, glancing at the other men, asks him, “Should I be worried?” “Prolly.”
For the other dudes, you can see what Black underlined on the index cards for their defining character trait. Baxley (Thomas Jane) is Tourette Syndrome. Lynch (Alfie Allen) is Quiet. Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) is Mexican. And Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) is Joker (almost all his humor is unfunny variants of schoolyard “yo momma” one liners).
The bus brings them to the basecamp of Operation Stargazer, where the captive Predator is being held. As the project’s commanding officer, Traeger, Sterling K. Brown’s wide smile shows he’s the only actor to fully recognize the trash he is spitting out. Biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is there to examine the temporarily-sedated Predator and she asks all the tough, science-y questions, like whether the mixed DNA in the alien meant someone had sex with a Predator or if it’s a case of “spontaneous speciation.”
After the beast’s violent revival, she escapes with the boys in a commandeered RV - thoughtfully one equipped with a microscope so that she may continue her studies between exchanges of gunfire.
While attempting to prove its hard-boiled-ness at every turn, the scene-to-scene character motivations in “The Predator” are incoherent and the dialogue is atrocious. We long for more shots of the Predator stalking its human prey in heat-mapped neon, as the chirping language it employs wonderfully incomprehensible to our ears. To put it in the starkest possible terms: this film makes “Avengers: Infinity War” seem well-written.
The Predator also supplies some physical comedy, as when it rips the arm off a soldier then sticks it out the window in the thumbs up position. That reshot climax involves the Predator giving the humans a seven-minute head start to run for their lives… and they spend half of the allotted time picking out which guns to bring.
When the McKennas finally bring a Predator language translation device online, the alien gives a kinder summation than most audience members: “I have enjoyed watching you kill each other.”