Friday, July 9, 2010

The Thrill Of The Hunt, In A Most Dangerous Game

Adrien Brody as Royce and Alice Braga as Isabelle in "Predators", directed by Nimrod Antal
Rico Torres/Fox
by Josh Youngerman/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW THE REEL
Friday, July 9, 2010

Nimrod Antal’s “Predators” delivers on what it sets out to do.  It is a fun action film that respects its audience and gives them a Predators film worth seeing.   Robert Rodriguez developed the film as a sequel/reboot of the Arnold Schwarzenegger franchise in the late ‘80s and ‘90s.  The film is almost a throwback to the old Hammer horror film days: you cast really great actors so that they can sell this often ridiculous material. 

The film starts with Royce (Adrien Brody) crash-landing on a distant planet that looks like the jungle.  We than see two other characters, Cuchillo (Danny Trejo, always welcome) and Isabelle (Alice Braga), a sniper.  They are soon surrounded by a Yakuza named Hans (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Southern death row inmate, Stans (Walton Goggins, reprising his role from the TV drama “Justified”), and a snarky American doctor, Edwin (Topher Grace).  They have no idea how they got there, and of course, like all jungle movies, they have to find a way out.  Soon they realize that they might be the ones who are being hunted by creatures.

The opening 45 minutes are effectively creepy, with Antal and Rodriguez subscribing to the theory that what you don’t see is scarier than what you do.  There are a couple of good scares, and Antal builds a surprising amount of dread and tension.  The action sequences using mostly practical effects are really effective.  Unlike “The Last Airbender”, the CGI doesn’t really overwhelm Predators. 

The thing I admired most of all was the respect Antal shows the audience.

“Predators” could easily have started with voice over similar to "The Last Airbender" but doesn’t.  As a film “Predators” does a very good job of showing without telling.  There is no voice over, yet the temptation to include it was surely there, especially with the talented group of actors on display.  Rodriguez, who wrote “Predators”, didn’t receive a writing credit because he is not a member of the Writers Guild of America.  He uses familiar characters here, but does so effectively.

These characters are all archetypes but each of the actors fleshes them out to the best of their abilities.  Adrien Brody is probably the key to everything.  He won an Oscar for “The Pianist” and he is widely considered to be one of our great young dramatic actors.  Yet I loved watching him sell all of this insane and stupid stuff.  He gives it his all and it works.  If the film went with a traditional action star I don’t think it would have worked.  Walton Goggins, another great actor, is a lot of fun to watch as Stans.  He’s playing a mollified version of Bo Crowder from “Justified”, a performance which should have garnered him an Emmy nomination.  Goggins is very funny and we buy him as Stans. 

As for the rest of the cast, Topher Grace is at his most sarcastic in the role of Edwin.  He’s basically playing the Topher Grace role” but does a good job.  Braga probably has the toughest challenge of all because her character is actually supplied with a soul and a conscience.  Still, she is effective, especially in the first half, as the sniper.  Danny Trejo is great as Cuchillo, a Mexican drug lord.  Though a familiar role, Trejo brings something fresh to it.  He is one of my favorite character actors.  I can’t wait to see him in “Machete”, a film that will finally allow him to be a leading man. 

The highlight of “Predators” however, is Laurence Fishburne.

Let’s face it: “Predators” is far from being great or even a classic.  The film relies on really bad-looking CGI.  There are specific scenes that are noticeably bad.  The film’s third act is not as effective as earlier parts of the film, and there’s a good ten-minute stretch which just falls flat.  When “Predators” tries to be philosophical it almost falls flat, although the actors do a good job of selling it.  The tension in the first act disappears.  Later, in the third act, it threatens to overstay its welcome.

Vincenzo Natali’s recent film “Splice” deals with a lot of the philosophical questions “Predators” doesn’t bother with until its third act.

If you want to see a film that approaches the level of greatness, watch “Splice”.  (Adrien Brody also starred in that better one-word monster movie.) 

Right now though, “Predators” isn’t even the best movie playing in theatres.  If you have an opportunity to see “Winter’s Bone”, “Splice”, “Exit Through the Gift Shop”, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, and “Please Give”, you should take full advantage.  A lot of those titles however, aren’t easily accessible.  In this lackluster summer for mainstream films, “Predators” (with “Toy Story 3” aside), is the best movie playing at your local multiplex.  It is stupid fun.

Pauline Kael, the late, great critic for the New Yorker, once said, “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.” 

“Predators” is very good trash.

"Predators" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong creature violence and gore, and pervasive language.  The film's running time is one hour and 46 minutes. 

Josh Youngerman is Chicago's Horror Movie Examiner.  He will be contributing film reviews to The Popcorn Reel.  He is on Twitter @Josh_Y.

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