In today’s action blockbuster marketplace, it’s refreshing to see a film that boils the genre down to its bare essentials and thrives as a lean, mean, disemboweling machine. Not designed to sell collectors glasses at Burger King or have an opening weekend gross that would dwarf the GDP of a third-world country, Predators is a solid B-action movie that delivers fun, thrills, and unapologetic violence for only a fraction of the cost of your run-of-the-mill special effects extravaganza.
Earth’s deadliest killers have been abducted and airdropped onto a strange planet where they discover they are prey for the Predators, an alien species first introduced in the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger action film Predator. It may or may not surprise you* to learn that Predator aliens like to hunt things.** Led by an unnamed mercenary (Adrien Brody), the killer Earthlings discover that no matter your occupation, whether it be an enforcer for a drug cartel, a Spetsnaz soldier, or a death row convict, you may have what it takes to go up against a Predator…provided you’re not completely eviscerated because you happened to make the fatal mistake of leading with your left foot instead of your right.
And that’s the plot: eight elite killers are dropped on a planet and we see who will survive the longest. The film’s not intended to surprise you (when it tries, it fails miserably) or be particularly clever. There’s no cynicism, no irony, and hardly any references to other movies. It’s nasty, brutish, and short-ish, and that’s why it works. It boils away all the fat we’re used to getting with our action films. And sometimes fat isn’t bad. I can enjoy big budget spectacle, but sometimes less is more. And sometimes less is more amounts to a guy wielding a samurai sword against a pincer-faced creature with dreadlocks.
And “guy with samurai sword” is about as much character development as you can expect to find. You have eight distinctive personalities and every actor acquits him/herself well—the standouts being Laurence Fishburne and Topher Grace. Brody seems an unlikely choice as the macho action hero and his forced gravel-voice is a little much. But he’s a smart casting choice because unlike a typical meathead warrior, you can see the character’s intellect and know that he’s a worthy opponent against a race of creatures that rely on traps and tactical maneuvers as much as they do their advanced technology and raw strength. Even though you know that most characters aren’t going to survive the picture, the cast does a good job of showing that if it was a one-on-one fight on Earth, they could possibly emerge the victor. Unfortunately, they’re not on Earth and they’re they’re painfully outnumbered (emphasis on the “painfully”).
It’s a sad truth of Hollywood finances is that most big-budget action blockbusters can’t afford to get away with an R-rating. The expense involved requires that audiences—both mature and otherwise—be allowed to pay the full price of admission. With a small budget, Predators doesn’t have that concern and can deliver quality action that may not blow you away, but still be a lot of fun as you watch things get blown away. Director Nimrod Antal does a fantastic job of working with what he has and using sparse sets, limited CGI, smart cinematography and skillful editing to create thrilling set pieces. The special effects won’t set the world on fire (note: the fire effects are kind of crappy), but they fall in with the ethos of the production: get the job done.
Don’t be mistaken. Predators isn’t trying to skate by on the bare minimum. It simply has the confidence to know what it is and the skills to achieve what it wants to be. Granted, there are elements of the film that are a bit too sparse. The movie could use a little more humor, a little more imagination in some of the kills, and a little more money to spruce up a few effects and perhaps build on a briefly hinted-at plot point that it’s not just Earth’s deadliest killers that are running around on the Predator planet. But even without these nice touches, Predators is a good B-action that provides a lot of fun on its little murder planet.
*But it really shouldn’t surprise you.
**I continue to wonder if hunting is the purpose of the Predator or if it’s just how they unwind after a long day at the office.