Thursday, 8 July 2010

Into the woods (redux): "Predators"

Unlikely places to find one-time Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody: as a growly "stone-cold mercenary" traipsing through a hostile jungle environment in pursuit of that most intangible and elusive of beasts - a copper-bottomed hit. The name-recognition sequel Predators has Brody's Royce heading up a team of what the script describes as "heavy hitters" - a Yakuza (Louis Ozama Changchien), a former member of the Sierra Leone death squads (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), the FBI's most wanted (Walton Goggins), a sexy sniper chick (Alice Braga) and Danny Trejo - tossed unknowingly out of a plane into woodland that proves doubly deadly. Not just the natural habitat of the all-devouring, lesser-spotted Predator (we're assured the species has evolved, although its MO appears much the same), it's also been boobytrapped by all those who've tried to hunt the creature in the past. Look sharp for the Bill Oddie cameo.

Best to get the cynicism out of the way early doors: yes, Predators is a cash-strapped major studio's way of renewing their dwindling revenue streams by rebooting one of their most enduring franchises - but, as produced by Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimród Antal, it displays, in itself, just about the right level of genre smarts to pass muster. The opening 45 minutes, certainly, are an improvement on 2008's utterly disposable Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, currently languishing in a DVD bargain bin near you. Screenwriters Alex Litvak and Michael Finch have shrewdly recycled elements from Lost (the motley crew trying to work each other and their predicament out), Cube (all the while engaged against the ultimate killing machine), the Jurassic Park movies (with the Predators as T-Rexs; there's other, no less threatening indigenous wildlife to duck and dodge first) and that hardy genre perennial The Most Dangerous Game (man as both hunter and hunted, at the mercy of presumably very rich off-screen forces).

Jobbing Hungarian émigré Antal is an unusual choice for this gig, given that his work - pulpy and generic as it has been in spots - has mostly been concerned with interiors: think the Budapest subway system in his international breakthrough Kontroll, the interlocking motel rooms in 2007's Vacancy, or the locked security van holed up inside the disused industrial premises in last year's thoroughly boxy Armored. In fact, while events take a left turn around the halfway mark with the introduction of Laurence Fishburne (an Armored veteran) as a deranged survivor of earlier carnage, interest takes a pronounced dip during a second act in which he lures Royce's crew back to his place - and effectively shuts out any threat the Predators pose.

Briefly, the film turns into Aliens - the production design, all caves and pipework, acknowledges as much - and becomes a good deal stuffier and more familiar for it, although as the final act suggests Predators also wants to be considered as a samurai movie, and as a Vin Diesel opus starring Adrien Brody (holding up his end of the bargain adequately, enhanced abs and all), we might, perhaps, give the filmmakers marks for eclecticism, if not originality; the ending, blatantly setting up a potential Predator3, nevertheless has the authentically downbeat tenor of pulp. In the end, it is just more product - product that, like its target audience, probably needs to get out more - but it's product that pretty much fulfills its lowly remit, and in a summer of major American squibs and duds, we might be grudgingly grateful for that.

Predators opens in cinemas nationwide today.

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