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Never Go Full Retard

By Dustin Rowles and Seth Freilich | Film | July 9, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles and Seth Freilich | Film | July 9, 2010 |

As it turns out, Kirk Lazarus’ first immutable law of film doesn’t only apply to those grabbing for Oscar glory; “never go full retard” is equally applicable to action films. The Robert Rodriguez-produced, Nimród Antal-directed reborquel to Predator should’ve heeded the advice of Lazurus. For the first three quarters of the film, it’s a perfectly serviceable, half-retarded action film, with an IQ humming at around 80, which is right where you need to be for a decent summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, a couple of dumbasses — let’s call them Alex Litvak and Michael Finch — got it into their tiny, tiny brains that what Predators was missing was a twist that would make poor M. Night blush with embarrassment, a twist — combined with the Schwarzeneggering of Adrien Brody — that pushed Predators around the retard bin and into full-on territory.

A white guy (Adrien Brody), a Guatemalan woman (Alice Braga), a Mexican (Danny Trejo), an Asian (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a black guy (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a Russian (Oleg Taktarov), a death-row inmate (Walton Goggins), and a damsel in distress (Topher Grace) fall into a jungle. Literally. As the film opens, each of the characters is presumably doing his or own thing on Earth, before finding themselves falling out of the sky and onto a Predators’ game preserve on another planet. In another solar system. How? It’s never explained, although the sci-fi implications of that might have been a more interesting movie. Instead, we settle for the movie we are given: The Running Man set in an alien jungle where Predators essentially hunt for sport. They send out the Predator dogs; they use the Predator eagles for reconnaissance; and they set elaborate booby traps, though God knows why since they’re essentially invisible, they have infrared vision, laser eyes, and they can rip your spine out in an instant. But I suppose fully taking advantage of their alien powers — like, for instance, remaining invisible — would take all the sporting fun out of the adventure.

What follows is essentially 115 minutes of action-movie jungle golf without a cart: Walk a while, stop and shoot a few boogeyman, walk some more. Only the golfers aren’t getting drunk and making racist jokes but are being picked off one-by-one by alien Predators with dreadlocks and some serious gingivitis. Oh, and the catch here is that there are big Predators and then there are BIG Predators, and the BIG Predators also hunt the big Predators when they aren’t teleporting humans in for tea and spine removal. Because it’s a big planet. And they get bored clicking at each other all day. And apparently, despite all of their advanced technology, no one has thought to invent television on their planet yet (or perhaps they’re so advanced that their entertainment industry has fully devolved to where ours is going, and they simply don’t want to watch 24-hour reality porn — which is understandable since, to use Arnie’s original lingo, they’re some ugly motherfuckers).

The thing of it is, there’s a good movie lurking underneath the surface. The first half of the film tries to be a more quiet and softly-paced film, not really a thinking man’s action film, but perhaps trying to capture some of the slowly building suspense of the original . The problem is, the viewer knows the deal. We know that here there be Predators, and we wants our Predators. So the intended suspense starts to give way to an impatient kid’s “when are the Predators gonna come out!!” squirm. And then the Predators do come out and, well, the action is surprisingly underwhelming. To be sure, there are quick-cuts aplenty and gore by the red and neon green bloodful (and several beheadings but, curiously, not enough spine-out-of-the-body ripping), but most of the scenes have nothing indelible to offer. Replace the Big or BIG Predator with any one of a hundred action film baddies, and it’s the same thing. And even when the film tries to get creative, such as a well-intended honor-among-Predator-and-prey fight scene, it tends to misstep, giving us little more than a boringly executed and darkly shot fencing match.

Boring action aside, the shame of the film is also that, for a summer popcorn flick, the cast generally does what it needs to do. For instance, until he goes full Schwarzenegger when the film itself goes full retard, Brody is actually a serviceable action lead, although he seems to have spent a bit too much tuition at the Christian Bale School of Dark and Gravely Action Voices. White Guy is cold-hearted and smart, exactly the type of opponent the Predators want, and Brody does a good job at making us believe that a scrawny kid from Queens is capable of kicking ass and taking dreads. Mexican, though severely underused, is of course a wonderful badass because Trejo can’t be anything but, and Guatemalan Woman is the rare good female action hero, well-played by Braga and not bogged down by the sexist nonsense that these characters often get hit over the head with (which isn’t to say that Ellen Ripley couldn’t hand her her ass seven ways from Sunday).

But Goggins is really the highlight. Death-Row Inmate is exactly what you’d expect, dark and a little bit snarky, and both a bad-ass and a bit of a gutless pussy, but god damned if he doesn’t do it well. He serves as a sort of dark comic relief, amusing but not really laugh-out-loud funny, which is exactly the type of comedy the film should have. And had they left well enough alone, that would be that. But, someone apparently had the bright idea to put more levity into the film and, thus, enter Topher Grace. Yes, his Damsel in Distress is amusing at times (sometimes on purpose and, other times, oh-so-unintentionally so), but he’s also distracting. He serves to take you right out of the mood and remind you that there are writers behind the scenes, manipulating the pacing of this game of cat and mouse, and the viewer and film would have both been much better served without the needless “laughs.”

And yet, even that would not have been enough for us to hate on the film. But anything good that can be said about the movie is largely wiped away by the inscrutable decision to go full retard at the end. A fight scene that should be awesome winds up being little more than something you would expect from the original “Star Trek” TV show. And then, oh dear God, comes that twist. How the Predators themselves didn’t pull their dreadlocks out over that nonsense is beyond us. Let’s just say: Topher Grace’s character quickly reminds us of why we hated Spider-man 3 and leave it at that.