Predators


Predators

Adrien Brody, Alice Braga and cohorts are definitely NOT in Kansas anymore.

(20th Century Fox) Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalahashbaz Ali, Louiz Ozawa, Changchien, Carey Jones, Brian Steele, Derek Mears. Directed by Nimrod Antal

A very simplistic world-view of life is that we are either predators or we are prey. It’s simply a matter of where we want to be on the food chain, and what we’re willing to do to get there.

Royce (Brody) awakens in a very confused state. One moment he was with his unit, the next there was a bright light and now he is in free fall. That’s not a good place to be when you’re just waking up.

He manages to deploy a parachute and ends up landing safely, if a little bit roughly, in the jungle. One by one, a number of other parachutes deploy and soon there’s a group of people, all with roughly the same story, including Isabelle (Braga) an Israeli sharp-shooter, Stans (Goggins) a convicted killer two days from lethal injection, Nikolai (Taktarov), a Russian trooper keeping the peace in Chechnya, Hanzo (Changchien) a Japanese yakuza, Cuchillo (Trejo) a Mexican druglord, Mombassa (Ali) an African militia man and Edwin (Grace), a doctor.

Royce, for his part, is a black ops mercenary with not much in the way of a moral compass beyond getting the job done and surviving it. What they are all doing there is a bit of a mystery, as is where “there” is – Isabelle, who claims she’s been in most jungles of the world, doesn’t recognize this one. Amazon, maybe?

All that goes out the window when Royce notices that the sun remains stationary in the sky. It further takes a turn for the Twilight Zone when they emerge into a clearing to see a whole arsenal of moons floating serenely in the sky. They are most certainly not in Kansas anymore, or anywhere else on earth for that matter.

The appearance of strange bad-tempered warthog-like creatures with an array of bony spikes protruding from just about everywhere on their bodies doesn’t bode well. However, soon enough Royce figures things out – they are on a game preserve and they are being hunted. Sure enough, a Predator soon makes an appearance, with just enough technology for Isabelle – who was apparently privy to a lot of sensitive information – to recognize them from a report about a strange encounter with an American military team in South America in which only one survivor emerged. Will this team, stranded in an alien planet with no food or water, have even that many survivors?

This is billed as a sequel to the original Predator (1987) and there are plenty of references to the original from the obvious (Isabelle’s report) to the subtle (the playing of “Long Tall Sally” over the end credits, a song that was also played at the beginning of Predator). Obviously, the filmmakers had a great deal of respect and reverence for the original.

They may have been a bit too reverential, however. The storyline is essentially identical to the first Predator with a group of well-armed military people being picked off in a jungle one by one by predators, although in the original it was just one. While the original Predator saw an established and cohesive American military team being attacked, here it is a bunch of people from a variety of different disciplines and nations all brought together for the first time, and they bicker a good deal, although when the rubber hits the road they are terrifyingly good at what they do.

The cast is surprisingly good, especially Brody who isn’t known for action movies. He does a credible job here as the brutal and taciturn mercenary. Brody has obviously bulked up for the role, although he isn’t as muscular as, say, Stallone or Schwarzenegger, he has that wiry muscular toughness which is more in line with what you see in the modern military. Fishburne has what amounts to an extended cameo as the only survivor of a previous group brought to the planet to be hunted – he is there essentially to supply a bit of comic relief (only a bit) as well as a sense of perspective about how long this has been going on.

The action sequences hit all the right buttons, from the “predator vision” which is meant to resemble infrared, to things going boom. There are a number of nausea-inducing killings, which are very high on the cool meter, as well as a really nice sequence when Hanzo goes mano a mano with a Predator.

One of the little things I liked was that the Predators have different looks to them – I’m not talking subtle differences, but major ones, the way you would find in different ethnic groups. One of the problems with science fiction movies is that you rarely get a sense that alien races have the diversity of the human race; they have a tendency to be generically the same.

There are a few little quibbles with science in the science fiction here. A planet or moon that keeps one face turned towards the sun with planetoids or moons orbiting nearby would be torn apart by the gravitational forces; at the very least it wouldn’t have much of an atmosphere. Since some of the scenes take place at night (which I’m assuming occurs when one of the planetoids or moons gets between the game preserve planet and the sun) the screenwriters could have avoided this merely by giving the planet a rotation. Other than the scenes with the spiny warthogs and the view of the multiple moons, there’s no sense that you’re on a distant planet; all of the fauna are earth-bound varieties which would be extremely unlikely, unless the Predators terraformed the planet and seeded it with plants from our own world, which would seem to be a very expensive and labor-intensive job just to create a game preserve.

But these are quibbles and most viewers aren’t going to care about such things. This is about action and there is plenty of it. The action and character development is good enough to make this an enjoyable two hours. In a summer full of disappointments in terms of quality movies and box office, Predators stands out as one of the better popcorn movies in an off year for them.

REASONS TO GO: Solid summer action film fare. Brody is impressive as the mercenary.

REASONS TO STAY: This is essentially the first Predator relocated, with a team that isn’t as cohesive as the first one. You rarely get a sense that you’re on an alien planet.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of gore and violence, as well as some nightmare-inducing Predators running around. Given the pervasive foul language as well, I’d restrict this to older teens for the most part.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rodriguez conceived the idea for the movie back in 1994 and wrote a script that was submitted to Fox, who rejected it for being too expensive to produce. 15 years later, they changed their mind and Rodriguez wrote a modified version of the script that would be less expensive to produce, and delivered – the movie cost $40 million to make, relatively inexpensive for a high-profile summer sci-fi action movie.

HOME OR THEATER: In all honesty, the jungle location is more claustrophobic than grand in scale; it will easily fit in your home theater system. Those with smaller televisions might want to take this in on the big screen, however.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Inception

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Armored


Armored

Matt Dillon finally gets around to reading the script. "That's how it ends? SERIOUSLY?"

(Screen Gems) Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Columbus Short, Fred Ward, Skeet Ulrich, Jean Reno, Milo Ventimiglia, Amaury Nolasco, Andre Jamal Kinney, Lorna Raver, Nick Jameson, Glenn Taranto. Directed by Nimrod Antal

There’s no such thing as the perfect crime. Technology has made it increasingly more difficult for criminals to ply their trade. If professionals can’t come up with a perfect crime, what kind of hope does an amateur have?

Ty Hackett (Short) is a decorated war veteran who has fallen on hard times. After the death of his parents from long illnesses, he has become legal guardian of his teenaged brother (Kinney) who is more interested in tagging than attending classes. Ty has gotten a job as an armored car security guard through family friend Mike (Dillon). He’s the new kid on the block in a tight crew that includes Baines (Fishburne), Quinn (Reno), Dobbs (Ulrich) and Palmer (Nolasco). They stage a fake heist to haze the rookie.

Except that it wasn’t just a prank, it was a run-through. You see, the guards have decided that they want a piece of the pie and they’ve come up with a foolproof way to do it. They drive their two trucks to an abandoned factory that is a radio and cell phone dead zone, unload the $40 million that they are carrying during a particularly busy period and torch the trucks, claiming that they’d been jacked. No witnesses, and after some initial suspicion if they are disciplined and don’t spend their money unwisely, the money will be theirs once the heat dies down. Nobody gets hurt.

Mike presents the plan to Ty over chili dogs and at first the straight-arrow Ty wants no part in it, but with the house in foreclosure and now child services sending a caseworker (Raver) to investigate his brother’s infrequent class attendance could potentially split the brothers up lead Ty to finally agree to the plan.

Unfortunately, nobody thought to scout the factory and make sure nobody was there. A homeless man (Jameson) who was apparently living there observes what’s going on and the crew of professional security guards panic. Guns are fired, the homeless man is killed and Ty makes a decision to lock himself in one of the armored cars (which still has half the loot in it) rather than continue on with the robbery which he agreed to participate in. The guards huff, and they puff but they can’t blow the doors down. Things are further complicated when an inquisitive cop (Ventimiglia) hears the commotion in the abandoned factory and gets critically injured by the trigger-happy Baines put further pressure on the conscience-stricken Ty.

Director Antal has a couple of terrific films in his background (Kontroll, Vacancy) and the reboot of the Predator franchise in his future but something tells me this won’t be remembered as a highlight of his filmography. It’s not badly directed – the action sequences are in fact very well done – but the script is poor.

Frankly, I find the behavior of every one of the characters to be a bit out of whack with reality. I believe the intention here was to show the pressure cracking the bonds of the thieves from within but quite frankly, we get behavior that’s just inexplicable. Baines turns out to be a trigger-happy lunatic – who knew? – which would probably come as a shock to the security transport company that hired him. Apparently that little detail escaped the rigid interview and probationary process that armored transport security personnel undergo in order to be allowed to have access to the kind of money these guys have access to on a daily basis. And it seems to me that for trained professionals, they fell apart rather easily when the homeless guy shows up.

Worst of all is Ty, who has the most motivation of all to want the cash; he’s on the verge of losing his home and his brother. He is also a trained and decorated soldier, yet time and time again he puts other people in jeopardy after it is clearly demonstrated that his former crew is willing to kill. Not a very smart soldier, apparently. Also, none of the trucks have GPS devices in them, something that even pizza delivery cars have. A point is made that the trucks are to get them shortly, which is what makes the timing of the heist crucial.

Still, Short is likable enough as Ty which is a good thing, because when he makes his moral stand logic and real human emotion seems to go out the window. Any person who is risking his family would probably at least have some sort of second thoughts but there are none displayed at any time by the young ex-soldier. And while I won’t reveal the movie’s ending, it comes very abruptly and is not terribly satisfying. You are left staring puzzled at the screen mumbling “Really? That’s all?” in a dazed voice into your empty tub of popcorn.

Armored isn’t a bad movie but it isn’t a good movie either. The actors are solid, particularly veterans like Fishburne, Dillon and Reno. If the script had matched their efforts, this might have been entertaining. Unfortunately, this is barely passable in that regard.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are pretty intense. Short is extremely likable in the lead.

REASONS TO STAY: Ty’s not always entirely believable in his actions. As a matter of fact, the script has a lot of logic issues.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of bang bang, a little bit of oozing wounds and a crapload of f bombs.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The last time Dillon and Fishburne were in a film together was Rumblefish in 1983.

HOME OR THEATER: This has rental written all over it.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Public Enemies