In 1987, a small group of soldiers entered a Central American jungle on a rescue mission. The mission quickly turns to survival when a mysterious creature begins hunting the soldiers down and taking their remains as trophies. Using advanced weaponry, sharpened hunting skills and physical power, the alien creature enters the hearts of film lovers across the world and the name “Predator” becomes a household name.

And I fell in love for the first time.

I was only 9.

Fast-forward 23 years later. Three films (one a true sequel, the other two poor attempts to mash-up with the Alien franchise), an extraordinary short film (“Batman: Dead End” – watch it if you’ve never seen it), video games, action figures, collectibles and a host of comic books have expanded the world of the Predator to monumental proportions. Fanboys and girls have kept the love alive by panting over anything new that shows the hunter in action. Needless to say, when news came out that Robert Rodriquez  (“Sin City,” “Desperado”) was going to be producing a new film in the series, people went wild. Sorry, let me rephrase, I went wild.

Directed by Nimród Antal (“Armored,” “Vacancy”) “Predators” is a modern vision on the classic sport of hunting. The premise: eight “elite” killers find themselves in a mysterious jungle with no memory of how they got there or why they are there. Using their own set of survival skills, the group quickly realizes that something is after them. Let the mayhem ensue.

By now and by the name of the film, we all know what’s hunting them, so let’s get to the nitty gritty. This film is kind of lame. Sorry to say that, but this film suffers from a lot of little things and, as most of us know, it’s the little things that matter most. The primary source of the lameness is due to some unbalanced and (unfortunately) unoriginal choices for the film to focus on.

The best way to describe the film is by saying that it tried really hard to be its cooler big brother – the big brother being the original 1987 film. The setting, wardrobe and weapons all seem to have been chosen to give us a nostalgic, call back to the original and while I found myself enjoying these aspects at first, I quickly realized that this ended up making it more like a CliffsNotes version of something I’ve already seen. 

In my opinion, by making so many clear callbacks to the original, the filmmakers have opened the floodgates for comparisons — a hurdle that was already going to be difficult to overcome.
Take the characters for example. Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) versus Royce (a bulked up Adrian Brody) or Dillon (Carl Weathers) versus Edwin (Topher Grace) or Billy (Sonny Landham) versus Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien). There is no comparison. Now I’m not talking acting abilities, I’m talking screen presence. I’m talking about who can size up against something like the Predator (see the cast of the soon-to-be released “The Expendables” for examples.) The original cast had this in spades but just like Danny Glover in “Predator 2,” this cast just can’t compare to the creature itself.

Also, I have to ask, who chose these “elite” killers? I get Brody’s character, the token sniper-girl and the two large Russian and African soldiers, but not the rest. While I think Walton Goggins  (“The Shield,” “Justified”) is cool as ice, no way does his death-row inmate character fit into this scenario. Neither does Danny Trejo’s cartel enforcer, Changchien’s Yakuza or Grace’s “doctor.” Unless of course one of the major prerequisites for joining the crew is being able to drop an “f” bomb every time you speak of course.

At the same time, the acting was extremely heavy handed. Brody seems to be in old-school Clint Eastwood mode as he snarls and husks-up every syllable as it exits his mouth. Laurence Fishburne, by comparison, took many red pills and seems to be lost in the “Matrix” (especially since his little hideout looks like a leftover set piece from the Nebuchadnezzar.) Danny Trejo and Topher Grace play Danny Trejo and Topher Grace with nothing new or different to add to the overall movie and everyone else is, well … just everyone else. Nothing outstanding to speak of and nothing very memorable.

What should of have been a jungle action epic becomes more like a slasher film just set in the jungle with characters dying in the same old, same old stereotypical places. From the very beginning, you could almost play your own little sick game of picking out who would die first and how and 8 times out of 10, you would be right.

Of course the real question is how are the Predators? Cool, as usual, but for me, there were way too many of them. This is the same thought I had when I watched “Aliens versus Predators.” One decimated a truly elite group of soldiers in the original film along with a team of Green Berets, a bunch of guerilla enforcers and whatever else it deemed worth of killing. If that’s the case, three, especially three on a world they are familiar with, should just dominate. But they don’t. By adding the multiple Predators, it makes it extremely silly when one bites the dust. Right away, it’s pretty clear which Predator is going to be the big badass of the film. Edit out the rest, give him the limelight and let the hunting begin. The filmmakers do add in a nice element showing a social hierarchy within the Predator race, but still, for a film like this, one would have been just enough.

Overall, I guess I was entertained. The music, sounds and Predator all reminded me of what I originally fell in love with all those years ago. Some good action scenes and a few well-paced moments kept me engaged, but by the end, you just kind of leave the theater with a feeling of “eh.” I don’t think anyone will feel bad for watching it (not like “The Last Airbender” … ugh, I still hate myself for sitting through that one) and it will most definitely gather dust on my DVD shelf next year, but with nothing new to offer, sadly the Predator enthusiasts of the world will just have to wait for something as cool as that 1987 original.

2.5 out 5 “No, run, get to the choppers!”

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