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'Predators' has little to chew on

Predators

Stars: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga

Director: Nimród Antal

Rating: R (strong violence, gore, strong language)

Running time: 106 min.


Posted 8:45am on Friday, Jul. 09, 2010


They are dropped from the sky, with only a parachute to save them. They land in a lush green jungle, whose topography seems to resemble no known place on Earth. All they can remember, from the moments prior to their arrival, is a flash of bright white light.

There are eight of them, all of whom seem to have some kind of background in violence: a black ops mercenary (Adrien Brody), a CIA assassin (Alice Braga), a soldier for a Mexican drug cartel (Danny Trejo), a murderer on death row (Walton Goggins) and so forth. Soon they realize that they have been sent here as prey, to be hunted and destroyed by an alien race seeking out new forms of diversion.

That's the setup for Predators, which borrows heavily from The Most Dangerous Game and Lost to reinvigorate a franchise that, in its most recent incarnation, the two Alien vs. Predator films, devolved into comic-book/sci-fi inanity. (Kind of like Ed Wood movies with expensive special effects.)

This new version tries to restore some of the straight-ahead intensity of the original 1987 Predator, while also pushing it deeper into the realm of old-fashioned horror. Turns out our heroes are trapped on the home planet of the Predators, and they must face off these snarling, dreadlocked monsters -- not to mention their feral, tusked pets -- and find a way to escape.

What the movie sorely lacks, though, is any real sense of fear. Predators was directed by Nimród Antal (Vacancy), but it was produced by Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, whose fingerprints are all over it. Like most of Rodriguez's work, this movie only comes alive when it's at its most gleefully juvenile, as limbs get sliced and body cavities are torn open and the Predators spew neon green blood.

Rodriguez loves his creatures, and he and Antal take evident delight in populating this planet with as many different monsters as possible -- to the exclusion of any real character or plot development. Nothing seems to matter here other than the goo and the gore.

Predators, with its screenplay by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, is hardly terrible; in fact, there's a nifty bit involving a Japanese yakuza, played by Louis Ozawa Changchien, challenging one of the monsters to a sword battle. But the movie doggedly refuses to come to life, perhaps because the actors feel so secondary to the proceedings.

As the self-appointed leader of the humans, Brody lacks the brawn of a proper action hero, not to mention the charm -- the few attempts to generate a romance between Brody and Braga go nowhere. Both Topher Grace, as a doctor who doesn't seem to fit in with this group of killers, and Laurence Fishburne, a mysterious man they encounter, are wasted.

The final sections of Predators feature a massive grenade explosion, a spaceship getting blown to bits, and a venom that, once injected, renders a person paralyzed -- in other words, as with most of this summer's action movies, it is barely comprehensible chaos.

That's when you fully realize how many opportunities have been squandered here (the Predators' infrared vision and invisibility, so integral to the nervous energy of the original film, go mostly unexploited), and how little heart or playfulness is on display. Predators mostly just suggests a bunch of grown-up men playing with toys and not bothering to invite the rest of us into their circle.

Christopher Kelly is the Star-Telegram film critic, 817-390-7032

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