What follows is an extended version of a review I originally wrote for Punch Drunk Movies. Music-obsessive that I am, I call these longer versions my 12-inch mix.
With a nod toward nostalgia, “The Predator” opens with the same credit font as the original “Predator” from 1987 and even uses some of that film’s memorable music cues. But this new movie feels a little different. Whereas the original had a relatively slow burn (well, for an ‘80s, testosterone-fueled, action movie) and a simple premise, this “Predator” has an overstuffed plot, an overabundance of characters, and a breathless pace that tears through its runtime like a bullet train. But that pace can’t smooth over the cobbled-together feel of the movie, resulting in a picture that is both too much and too little at the same time, and, really, just a bit of a mess.
There’s so much going on in the first half of the movie it’s hard to take in and harder to explain coherently, something the movie only does marginally well itself. A plethora of disparate characters is folded together by the plot, chasing/being chased by the titular Predator, those pincer-faced aliens who cross interstellar space to hunt (humans, mostly) for sport/honor.
The movie begins with Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, a little too smug to be charming), a military sniper who loses his crew when one of the aliens, mysteriously chased by another ship, crash lands near their military operation in Mexico. Then there’s Olivia Munn’s Casey Bracket, an evolutionary biologist pulled into the plot by Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, clearly relishing the quirky dialogue), a shady government agent who wants her to study the Predator after its tussle with Quinn and subsequent capture. Casey, at least, isn’t another damsel in distress, getting her own fair share of action moments, which Munn pulls off convincingly.
But the character roster just keeps growing. We also have Rory (young Oscar nominee, Jacob Tremblay), Quinn’s son, who is on the spectrum and whose genius talents make him important to the plot. And still more: Quinn joins up with an ex-military crew, all suffering from a variety of mental issues, headed by “Moonlight’s” Trevante Rhodes as Gaylord Williams. Rhodes ports over his tough, yet vulnerable act from that Oscar-winning film to this one (I’ll assume “The Predator” will not be winning any Oscars), but Gaylord and the rest of his crew are defined almost solely by their afflictions and their familiar faces (one of them, Alfie Alan, I recognized from “Game of Thrones,” but doesn’t get to do more than be recognized as that guy from “Game of Thrones”).
Eventually, the Predator escapes, with Casey hot on its tail, chasing it into Quinn’s path, bringing together Casey, Quinn, the crew, and the Predator, too (the Professor and Mary-Ann do not make an appearance). All of the characters join up in attempt to take down the threatening alien, whose appearance on earth is not a simple hunting expedition as usual, instead heralding a (literally) bigger threat that the abundant crew of heroes (and non-) has to deal with.
The movie’s too chaotic, the way the characters are introduced and put together is slapdash, and the details of the story don’t make sense. Casey simply shows up at the top-secret laboratory to study the alien without so much as an introduction. We barely even have an inkling of her personality before the alien wakes up and she’s giving chase. At the same time, Quinn is framed, put on a prison transport, meets his eventual crew, taken to a military mental institution, and just so happens to run back into the Predator, Casey not far behind. It all feels rushed, too coincidental, with the geography not even making sense. Is that seemingly isolated top secret lab (introduced on top of a mountain, next to a waterfall) right next to the mental hospital where Quinn was about to be deposited? And who are all of these characters running around with guns? It’s as if the movie was hastily streamlined and reshaped at the last minute in post-production. Turns out it was.
I’m assuming that’s why film’s official plot synopsis (released by the film’s studio, 20th Century Fox) don’t match what we see in the movie. Casey’s described as a disgruntled teacher, but that whole “disgruntled” part never shows up in the completed picture. The synopsis also claims that Rory accidentally triggers the Predators’ return to earth. Not really true, either. The reshoots apparently caused some wonky editing also. At one point, a character runs into a random dog just before Predator Dogs show up (Yes, this movie features Predator Dogs, one of whom becomes a good guy after being shot in the head…huh?). When the alien dogs attack, the regular hound seems to just disappear. A few scenes later, a bunch of characters are trying to board an RV before another imminent Predator attack and that dog from earlier suddenly shows up again as the movie jarringly/randomly cuts to him running toward the vehicle also. Does he make it? I have no idea. After that one glimpse, he, once again, disappears from all subsequent scenes. This movie’s a mess.
Despite these problems, “The Predator” is still a somewhat entertaining movie, being both funny and gory. Really gory. The former is more effective than the latter, with the blood and guts almost purely CG, looking more cartoonish than disturbing. It fits the film’s irreverent tone, but it also doesn’t have much impact, becoming a sort of red background noise. It’s so pervasive and so…animated…you become desensitized to it almost immediately. By the time a Predator beheads a jeep full of soldiers at once, you shrug passively.
But it’s easy to swallow the mayhem because the dialogue is consistently amusing, filled with hard-boiled bon-mots. It’s as if director Shane Black and co-writer Fred Dekker (together again after writing the oddball “Monster Squad” together in the ‘80s) compete throughout the script, trying to outdo each other with ridiculous word-play, put-downs, and snarky comebacks. I snort-chuckled at most of them. One character sums up the aliens’ motivations as, “…f***ing you up is their idea of tourism.” Granted, I relayed this one-liner to a colleague who only looked at me stone-faced, waiting for the punchline. The humor’s mileage may vary for some.
While the whole messy endeavor doesn’t feel like an exact retread of the original, it’s not all that different by the third act, which ends once again with another showdown in a forest. Every “Predator” sequel (this is the fourth, not counting the “Aliens vs.” movies) has sprinkled a few interesting details about the creatures, but the plots always end up the same. Maybe there’s isn’t much more you can do with these hunters, and maybe “Predator” just isn’t worthy of a franchise. “The Predator,” while kind of fun, doesn’t convince me otherwise.