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Predators (2010) is supposed to be a 21st century update on a beloved scifi flick from the Reagan administration. The 1987 original, of course, starred Arnold Schwarzenegger (now Governor of California, who can be seen in the ongoing thriller Budget Deficit) as a tough-as-nails mercenary type who lands in the jungle and must take on an alien killing machine with dreadlocks. (And infrared vision, a built-in ray gun, the ability to become invisible…you get the idea.) Arnie used brains and brawn to eventually outwit the monster, and it seemed like a franchise had been born. Oddly, unlike the wildly successful and contemporaneous Alien films, Predator spawned only one sequel (1990) and then lay dormant until the brainwave that was Alien vs. Predator arrived in 2004. But that film, ingenious as its premise was—take two monsters and put them in the same movie!—didn’t really feel like an honest-to-god sequel. This left the proverbial door open for Predators, which lumbered onto screens nationwide last weekend.
On its own, it’s not a great film. The characters are wooden, the dialogue is uneven, and no one ever really explains the film’s premise (a bunch of mercenary types plus a convict and a doctor get dropped onto an alien planet to act as game for sport-happy Predators). It’s hard to really get invested in Predators because the characters aren’t sympathetic, and the editing is so rushed that it can be hard to tell what’s going on. It feels more like a made-for-TV movie than an actual feature film. This is especially disappointing given the film’s director, Nimod Antal, began his career in 2003 with the excellent Hungarian film Kontroll and then apparently sold out to Hollywood (his next film, Vacancy (2007), was almost shockingly bad). That being said, the creature CGI in Predators is reasonably engaging—the Predators themselves are guys in suits, much along the line of the uruk-hai in the Lord of the Rings films. There are various CGI beasties who periodically swoop in and attack the unlucky pack of humans, and those few truly suspenseful moments are pretty fun to watch.
The elephant in the room in this film is the fact that Arnie’s role as ultimate alpha male has been taken over by…Adrien Brody. A bizarre casting choice to be sure, but Brody, an Oscar winner, gamely attempts to morph himself into an action hero. The results are mixed—while he growls all of his lines with an appropriate devil-may-care affect, it’s just really difficult to take him seriously. The film’s climactic moment involves Brody doing shirtless battle with one of the Predators, and while he’s certainly not the wisp he was back in The Pianist, there’s something about him that just doesn’t work in this context. The film’s only woman, played by Alex Braga, often seems the most macho of all the characters.
It’s worth noting that America’s concept of masculinity has changed dramatically since 1987—when the Reagan administration had ordered real-life mercenaries into real-life jungles in Central America—but it seems the action film hasn’t evolved, even if the action hero has. What Predators needs in Brody’s role is an absolute stereotype, and perhaps because Brody is known for intimate, idiosyncratic characters, he actually needs to work harder to portray a less complicated one.