Review: The Predator

Director: Shane Black

Stars: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Jacob Tremblay

A couple of weeks ago Leigh Whannell’s snappy and vicious little sci-fi movie Upgrade earned limited release here in the UK and was seen by virtually no one. It’s a film of some charm, chiefly if you’re beloved of that violent brand of SF most keenly found in Hollywood pictures of the late 80’s and early 90’s. It tapped that vein of smirking badassery without feeling beholden to it. Now Shane Black’s The Predator is out; a new sequel to a franchise from that ‘golden’ era on wide release for all to see. And its complete dreck.

Black starred in the original Predator and has since made a name for himself with a succession of wise-cracking films that’ve found a faithful audience. His best-loved pictures take tropes of noir and skewer them to post-modern effect (Kiss Kiss Bang BangThe Nice Guys). One hopes, therefore, that The Predator is just something he needed to get out of his system. The old one-for-them, one-for-me theory.

Boyd Holbrook stars as the distinctly charmless Quinn McKenna, an army sniper who happens to be at ground zero for the downing of a new Predator vessel visiting Earth. He makes it out alive, but not before picking up a few souvenirs that he mails to his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) back home. Rory is a kid with autism, picked on by bullies, and who unwittingly becomes the primary target for a merciless alien hunter who wants his kit back. Fortunately, daddy’s on his way home.

Along the way, Quinn takes up company with a band of ‘loonies’ rejected by the army for various defects of character. It is here we find a wasted Trevante Rhodes; the most seemingly sanguine of a bunch that play mental illness for cheap gags. Thomas Jane’s sole character trait – for the most part – is his Tourette’s, while Alfie Allen seems to have been found guilty of having an implacable accent and being awful.

Thrown in for merciful good measure is Olivia Munn’s biologist Casey Bracket; the movie’s most likable character despite an astonishing ability to conjure theories out of thin air that then form the movie’s rock solid core. However, like everyone who’s not Boyd Holbrook, she’s largely ineffectual.

The story scrambles all over the place, lacking the shorn narrative fluency of John McTiernan’s original, or even the trashy yet consistent aesthetic of Stephen Hopkins’ underrated sequel (which, bizarrely, The Predator still acknowledges as canon despite being set in a future 1997 that never happened). The mid-section of the film ups the comedy factor considerably; a lot of goodwill is placed on the shoulders of our quirky, squabbling soldiers. It’s chaotic but fun in a scattershot sort of way, and even evokes the golden era of the slasher movie during a sequence set at a high school at night.

What really cripples the film (aside from several garbage ideas) is the hyperactive editing, which is a problem from the get-go. The Predator charges out the door and doesn’t stop once, not even long enough for you to get to know anybody or anchor any sense of connection. In short, it doesn’t pause to check whether you give a shit.

A case in point is the scene which establishes Rory’s inevitable savant abilities, faithfully replacing chess pieces on several toppled boards. Black doesn’t even bother paying off whether the kid actually got it right. It’s a small point but emblematic of the careless rushing that dogs the movie.

Most action sequences are a tumble of confused flash cutting occurring in the dark. What’s most discernible during this chaotic mess is the film’s fondness for hokey digital blood. There’s a lot of grue in The Predator, but even gore hounds won’t get their ya-yas, as everything is either blink-and-you’ll-miss-it or conspicuously cheap.

Stocked full of wise cracking ciphers, cartoonish villains and a preoccupation with an ill-conceived hybridisation subplot, The Predator is the Alien: Resurrection of this franchise. It has flashes here and there where you think it’s about to course-correct and salvage itself, but the moment never truly comes. The ante-upping mid-section is some respite, but it doesn’t last (and is also mired by, umm, Predator Dogs?). By the murky finale, things have descended into incomprehensible tedium and further laughable missteps.

Hands up who wanted to see a Predator sending threats via futuristic text message?

And not for nothing, The Predator not only leans on autism as a plot device which feels kinda exploitative, it also casually equates being gay with being crazy. So, there’s that.

I get it. It’s meant to be a comedy so lighten up, right? But its the kind of comedy that James Gunn would’ve tweeted a decade ago. Offensive or not, it’s also, bluntly, not funny.

The slam to credits threatens a further sequel with a development that whole-heartedly jumps the shark. Here’s to strongly hoping that that movie doesn’t get made. The Predator leans heavily on Henry Jackman’s original score from the 1987 flick that started the series. It’s a move that is likely intended to reinforce a sense of the kindred, but it more consistently reminds you of the calibre of action sci-fi flick you could be watching. Instead The Predator more closely resembles something like, say, Species.

Does anyone suddenly miss Adrien Brody trying to do his best Christian Bale Batman voice?

Score:  1.5

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