2018 | rated R | starring Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, Yvonne Strahovski | directed by Shane Black | 1 hr 47 mins |
Halloween Horrorfest # 5
Despite the attempts of 3 sequels, 2 spinoffs and legions of comic books and fan fiction, the alien monster at the center of John McTiernan’s 1987 film Predator wasn’t built for a franchise. The slow roll-out of it’s true nature is essential to Predator and a hard thing to recreate. The Predator of Predator stands to give a worthy adversary to Arnold Schwarzenegger at a time when he was at the height of his Austrian bodybuilding and movie star power and the only thing that could possibly match his Herculian might was an unstoppable alien from another world. 2010’s Predators set on their alien planet was a valient attempt and 1990’s Predator 2 is a hell of a fun movie that manages to expand the lore in a Robocop-esque setting, but as the Predator itself goes I don’t know if there is enough meat to these characters to feel one way or another about their sequels and reboots. You would think that if anyone could put up a proper Predator sequel, it would be original castmember and rumored ghost re-writer Shane Black.
Remember seeing the horrific sight of that unmaked Predator for the first time? It’s intimidating laugh and seemingly hopeless indestructibility? Shane Black strips that down to a mockery. The Predator opens with two alien spaceships in a space chase, one knocking away a satellite and crashing in the middle of a Central American jungle next to our sniper hero (Boyd Holbrook). It’s immediately clear that this is Shane Black in crazy 90s action movie mode instead of the more restrained dialog-driven film’s of his directing tenure. The Predator is more The Long Kiss Goodnight than The Nice Guys. A lot of 80s call-back movies are bad and a lot of reboots are bad, but few bad movies are as wild, crazy and baffling as The Predator. This movie is a mess, but not a traditional mess. A high energy, mad-capped mess of cartoon characters, outrageous gore and a plot that starts at profoundly silly and evaporates into complete incoherence. I was certainly not bored. Black knows how to keep the movie moving and the kills outrageous, but I was also totally confused and left gob smacked by this thing.
Just a month ago we got The Meg, the Jason Statham vs. Giant Shark movie that was cheesy but also textbook clean and effective. Heck, this is Black’s baileywick, but as a re-aligned my expectations to The Long Kiss Goodnight with Predators (which sounds awesome), the movie betrays that too. The Predator’s plot could use a severe untangling before even getting to some of it’s more jaw-dropping decisions. For a monster-mash movie this script should be a fairly straight-forward structure of desires and goals that move to new desires and goals, yet from about 40 minutes in (about the time dreadlock predator dogs descend on a football field) the movie becomes murky. Jumping from one scene to the next, it’s not clear why anyone is doing anything they are doing or going where they are going. Just tell me what they’re chasing and why. The movie doesn’t establish stakes or motives for anyone before launching into chases for alien technology, Quinn (Holbrook)’s autistic son (Jacob Tremblay), a big more-evil Predator war ship and the convergence of a government goon (Sterling K. Brown, relishing the cheese here) who pops up every now and then knowing exactly what he needs to exactly when he needs it.
The film centers around Quinn being tossed in with a bus full of ex-military castoffs calling themselves The Loonies (or he calls them that, who can remember) that includes Keegan-Michael Key dispensing Black’s Yo Momma jokes at Thomas Jane who is given a bout of vulgar Tourette’s. The Predator wants to be about PTSD and mental illness while it’s indulging it B-movie camp. It starts coming apart on a level that almost tips over into so-bad-it’s-funny territory. So poorly constructed and full of bizarre ideas it could have been made by Birdemic auteur James Nguyen, particularly given it’s shoe-horned in global warming message (yep!). Before it’s over we get people stumbling around with their guts hanging out, Olivia Munn stripping nude (off camera) to save her life, a predator strapped down to a gurney looking totally ridiculous, Jake Busey as a scientist (because every scientist and government agent here is a psychopath), a character running head-long into a jet engine, a long-distance suicide pact and some totally cringe-worthy ideas about autism. Tremblay’s character is able to decode alien technology in the latest example of a new trope where an autistic character is used as an all-knowing, near-magical plot device. A lengthy anti-climactic ending is the final head-slapper to cap off a battery of them.
It’s also odd to see Fred Dekker surface here as Black’s co-writing partner. Dekker has a few cult goodies under his belt (Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad) and always felt like talent denied, but after being chased out of Hollywood almost 30 years ago for Robocop 3 it’s weird that this was the project that convinced the suits at Fox to give the guy another shot. Maybe worst of all, The Predator doesn’t feel like a Shane Black movie at all. No self-referential narration, no genre deconstruction, no neo-noir tone or witty banter among criminals and no Christmas.
The Predator is uniquely baffling in a way that most studio bad movies are too tightly controlled to be. It’s hard to imagine Fox greenlighting this, gave Black free reign and then chopped it to incomprehensible ribbons so the audience couldn’t tell what was happening or why. That either it’s stupider head-shaking bits or it’s punch-drunk loonier bits wouldn’t have sent them shuttering it off to a January release dumping ground. Where it not so wonderfully gory and briskly paced it could have gone down as one of the worst big movies in recent years. But I’d certainly rather see something that’s incompetent and totally bonkers then something that’s just safe and boring. The Predator is an epic, unintentionally hilarious folly made by a lot of people who had to have known better. It’s kind of amazing to watch, just for all the worst reasons.