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Saturday, October 23, 2010

PREDATORS -- DVD review by porfle

Not the adrenaline-charged action blowout I was expecting, PREDATORS (2010) is still a reasonably exciting and, for the most part, absorbing monster flick.

Things get off to a dynamic start as mercenary soldier Royce (Adrien Brody) wakes up to find himself in the middle of a harrowing freefall through the clouds.  His chute opens just in time but he still goes crashing perilously through the ceiling of a dense jungle below before finally thudding into the turf.  Before long he discovers he's not the only one, as more confused people keep popping up and wondering where the hell they are and how they got there.

Curiously, they all seem to be adept at killing, either for business or pleasure.  Along with soldiers Isabelle (Alice Braga), Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), and Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), there's drug cartel executioner Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), a Yakuza named Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), and a flaky rapist-murderer from Death Row named Stans (Walter Goggins).  The odd man out is seemingly mild-mannered doctor Edwin (Topher Grace), who, like the others, was abducted in a flash of white light.

They may be in the dark as to what's going on, but most of us viewers are well aware that these hapless individuals are the latest prey for big, vicious aliens known as Predators, who hunt and kill for sport.  As we wait for them to appear, the humans, with Royce taking the lead, trudge through the jungle toward higher ground and eventually realize that they're on another planet.  The game now afoot, they're soon tracked down by a pack of doglike creatures in a lively attack sequence that's pretty nicely CGI-rendered.

Some of the characters start dying off before we get to know them at all, while the rest remain sketchy and enigmatic.  Royce, who cultivates a cold ruthlessness in order to survive, gives Adrien Brody a welcome chance to not be a wuss for a change.  Isabelle (played by Sonia Braga's niece Alice) and Nikolai are patriots who kill efficiently for their country yet retain their humanity--Nikolai proudly displays a photo of his kids at one point, while Isabelle refuses to leave a wounded Edwin behind. 

Cowardly blowhard Stans reminds me a little of Bill Paxton's "Hudson" from ALIENS, until he starts fantasizing about getting coked up and going on a raping spree when he gets back to Earth.  A surprising new character introduced late in the film (I won't go into any details) provides the story with its strangest and most interesting interlude.  The dialogue is serviceable but nobody is given anything very memorable to say, including the sort of pithy one-liners Arnold spouted in the first film. 

KNB EFX Group, Inc. provide the excellent makeup effects which we get to see in loving close-up.  The "original" Predator, we discover, was a little feller compared to the bigger, badder species introduced here, and it turns out there's a blood feud between them which becomes important to the plot later on.  I still prefer the original-style Predator to the jazzed-up new version, and it's a little disconcerting to see him diminished in comparison.

Highlights include a clash of swords between Predator and Yakuza, an inter-species Predator showdown, and a final clash between the baddest Predator and the most resourceful human.  But while there are several action setpieces and some thrilling stunts here and there, viewers expecting a monsters-versus-humans free-for-all along the lines of ALIENS will probably be disappointed.  The breakneck pace of that film is also missing here, as the story moves rather leisurely between action scenes and never really maintains much momentum.  Still, PREDATORS remains fairly absorbing throughout. 

The DVD from 20th-Century Fox is in 2.35:1 widescreen with soundtracks in English Dolby 5.1 and Spanish and French Dolby 2.0.  Subtitles are in English, Spanish, and French.  Extras include a chummy commentary track with director Nimrod Antal and producer Robert Rodriguez, a look at the film's location shooting in Hawaii and Texas, three short motion comics, the theatrical trailer, and several trailers from other 20th-Century Fox releases. 

Good performances, top-notch makeup effects, and high-gloss production values keep this somewhat lackluster screenplay moving along well enough.  But Nimrod Antal, while certainly a capable director, doesn't have that Robert Rodriguez touch, and PREDATORS comes off as an entertaining but unremarkable sci-fi/monster flick with a direct-to-video vibe.

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