The Predator (***1/2) gets chopped up

the-predator-poster

The Predator – 2018

Director Shane Black
Screenplay Fred Dekker and Black
Starring  Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown

Let’s be honest. Everyone who knows Shane Black was in charge of making this film was excited at the prospect of his working with his friend Fred Dekker to make a new film. He writes like everyone, good or bad, is more clever than everyone but for the coolest people we’ve ever met. No one writes kids better, either.

Shortly before the movie came out, it was revealed that Black had been forced to cut scenes out of the film involving his friend, who is a convicted child molester. What these and other cuts have to do with the final product will always force this viewer to wonder how to feel about the film. In short, The Predator is a good film, that is choppy, chaotic and overly gregarious, given the threat its characters appear to be facing.

These are all characteristics of its writer/director, right down to his own performance as Hawkins in the original film. He is on the screen a short time, but he’s there long enough to tell a few crude jokes, laugh a bit, and die magnificently. Image result for hawkins predator

The Predators starts with a space battle. One ship is chasing another, and the first ship escapes long enough to crash on earth in the midst of a military action involving Quinn McKenna (Holbrook) and his team. After losing everyone else on his team, McKenna renders the predator on his ship immobile for the government to pick up. Traeger (Brown), director of the “Stargazer Project” takes the Predator and everything he has with him to a facility to analyze. McKenna managers to escape for long enough to get a package filled with “evidence” mailed to his home.

Traeger is a jerk, so he makes McKenna the patsy for the loss of his team. This allows him to hide McKenna in the nuthouse if he makes any noise. Meanwhile, Traeger arranges to have Dr. Casey Beckett (Munn) brought into examine the findings. While there, she meets Sean Keyes (Busey).

Having seen this film twice, I still see no mention that Keyes’ character is actually the father of Peter Keyes Gary Busey’s character from the maligned second film in the series. Anyone who likes the series even a little would appreciate this acknowledgement. That it doesn’t happen reminds this reviewer that we’re dealing with the same writer director that gave us a fake Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Black is not making this film for people to those who like to be spoon fed interesting nuggets from the previous films. It’s as smart as it is frustrating.

Speaking of smart, McKenna’s son, Rory is played by brilliant young actor Jacob Tremblay. His portrayal of someone who is “on the spectrum” allows the viewer a chance to communicate with the alien species on their own terms. The kid is not handled like a precious commodity, which helps to save the character. One scene has a character calling another a derogatory word, of which Rory’s father takes umbrage. Another character finishes the point by saying the word would be more appropriate to label McKenna’s kid. The scene works because Black is an equal opportunity offender.

Another example is when one of McKenna’s friends, Nebraska (Rhodes) compares The Predator to Whoopi Goldberg. Black could never get away with this were it not a line delivered by a respected black actor who has been given a remarkable character. Everyone who knows Black knows his dialogue broke rules before Tarantino, but he still finds ways to push through new ways to circumvent the line of what’s offensive in the funniest way.

The first half of the film has many such moments. What the story lacks in cohesive dialogue, it more than makes up for in smart dialogue. At times it’s too smart for the fact that they shouldn’t be able to analyze the data they’ve collected on the run to the degree they do without the proper equipment or time.

The speed literally breaks necks, spines and other body parts. Somehow though, Traeger and Bracket both piece together what’s going on to an alarming degree. If that’s not enough, we have Rory. And for those who are really slow, somehow, someway, someone built a translator. Not sure who.

The end amounts to a mishmash of fight scenes that have little of the set up or execution that we’ve seen in the best of the previous episodes. There are some funny moments and some absolute decimation of characters who exist only to be killed. The time taken to build a second McKenna team filled with his “Loonies” friends help to give stakes to events.

Two of the best character actors are Brown’s Alpha Dog agent Traeger and Rhodes’ Nebraska Williams.  The little details Brown puts into the character allows us to like the fact that he’s an adversary. Brown is on a roll and gives such a refreshing character, it’s natural to wish he’d stick around long enough to become a good guy.

Williams background is ambiguous and never really resolved. This adds a dimension that the spare script doesn’t volunteer for otherwise. Rhodes presentation is seasoned to the point one can almost smell him and those awful cigarettes he constantly smokes when they’re sneaking around in the woods trying to avoid detection.

Munn and Holbrook hold their own amidst the chaos. The story sadly relegates Bracket to the side for most of the second half of the film. It is unclear how the cut scenes affect her character. In the end, she’s just another person holding a gun and firing at The Predator while the older McKenna fires from another angle.

The film is enjoyable, but it sure is fast, hard and choppy. Many of the scenes that might help build pull the story along for the slow and dimwitted are excised in favor of seeing people get sliced in half and repeatedly skewered by those massive retractable claws. Whether it’s a fair trade or not depends on how many times you need to see the same time of exposition that Black seems to abhor.

I think I am okay with it. Still, I would like to see how Black would have pieced it together if he’d had checked the background of his friends more thoroughly.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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