14th Sep2018

‘The Predator’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, Yvonne Strahovski | Written by Shane Black, Fred Dekker | Directed by Shane Black

the-predator-poster

Co-written and directed by Shane Black (who co-starred in the original 1987 movie), this sci-fi action thriller is either the fourth Predator movie or the sixth, depending on whether or not you count the two Alien Vs Predator films. In keeping with Black’s proclivities as a writer-director, The Predator plays like a shameless throwback to the 1980s, though the results are somewhat mixed.

Narcos’ Boyd Holbrook stars as U.S. mercenary Quinn McKenna, who first encounters the Predator when it crash-lands in the Mexican jungle and promptly slaughters his entire unit. Escaping with his life, McKenna manages to mail a load of alien tech back home (no, really) before getting picked up and debriefed by a sinister government organisation lead by Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and then locked up with a bunch of crazy ex-soldiers known as “The Loonies” (including Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane and Alfie Allen), who are on their way to psych ward.

Meanwhile, Traeger’s Project Stargazer manage to sedate the Predator and he recruits evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to observe the creature. Unfortunately, the Predator breaks free and heads out in search of its stolen tech, meaning that McKenna, the Loonies and Bracket have to work together to stop the alien before it reaches his estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and autistic genius son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay). And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Predator himself is being hunted by an even bigger Predator, as well as a couple of Predator Dogs.

If the plot seems overstuffed, that’s because Black and co-writer Fred Dekker (of Monster Squad fame) just keep hurling stuff into the mix in the hopes that something sticks. In fairness, some of it does, such as a great little sequence where Rory fashions the Predator tech into a Halloween costume and goes out trick-or-treating, or a handful of under-the-radar nods to the original film, e.g. the casting of Jake Busey. Similarly, there’s plenty of gloopy special effects to keep splatter fans happy and Black keeps things moving fast enough so that even when something isn’t working, there’s another exciting action set-piece just a few seconds away.

However, the film also has plenty of problems, some of which are clearly the fault of a troubled production that lead to multiple reshoots. As a result, the editing is extremely choppy and there are gaping continuity errors all over the place, not to mention a plot that makes less and less sense as it goes along, as well as several missing scenes and a number of questions that the script completely ignores.

The other key problem is that a lot of the humour falls painfully flat. For every decent running joke (e.g. the fact that people keep pointing out that The Predator is an inappropriate name for a creature that hunts for sport) there’s a cringe-worthy counterpart, such as Thomas Jane’s Tourette’s-afflicted soldier – the scene where his comrades try to excuse his obscene outburst to Bracket (instead of just telling her he has Tourette’s) is excruciating. On a similar note, the film seriously over-estimates the appeal of “The Loonies” – they’re mostly unlikeable characters and their rapid-fire banter isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is.

On the plus side, the performances are extremely strong, particularly Brown, who’s having so much fun playing the villain that it’s practically infectious, while Rhodes exudes off-the-scale charisma as suicidal soldier Nebraska, to the point that it backfires, because he eclipses all the other Loonies and steals every scene he’s in. On top of that, Holbrook and Munn make likeable leads (which just about compensates for the less likeable Loonies), and Tremblay is superb as Rory, delivering a sensitive, understated performance in a role that could have easily been showy or overly mawkish.

Despite its multiple problems, The Predator still manages to be an awful lot of fun, thanks to Black’s fast-paced direction, committed performances and some enjoyably gore-spattered set pieces. Whether it will earn its obviously hoped-for (and blatantly set up) sequel remains to be seen, but in the meantime, this is more than passably entertaining, provided you’re prepared to overlook its shortcomings.

*** 3/5

The Predator is in UK cinemas now.

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