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(2010) (Adrien Brody, Alice Braga) (R)

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Action/Sci-Fi: A group of soldiers and killers must contend with being deposited on another planet where they're to serve as prey for technologically advanced predator hunters.
Former soldier turned mercenary Royce (ADRIEN BRODY) finds his world turned upside down when he wakes up to find himself plummeting toward the ground, with his parachute barely stopping his fall to a jungle floor. There, he encounters others in the identical predicament of not knowing where they are or how they've come to be in this place.

They include sniper Isabelle (ALICE BRAGA) and drug cartel enforcer Cuchillo (DANNY TREJO), along with Japanese mobster Hanzo (LOUIS OZAWA CHANGCHIEN), RUF death squad member Mombasa (MAHERSHALALHASHBAZ ALI), and Russian special ops soldier Nikolai (OLEG TAKAROV). Then there's convicted mass murderer Stans (WALTON GOGGINS) who was just days away from being executed, and the unlikeliest member of this unlikely group, Edwin (TOPHER GRACE), a slight and unassuming doctor.

It's not long before they realize they're on another planet in some sort of hunting preserve where they're the prey for technologically advanced, alien predator beings. Seeing that no one -- save for former Air Cavalry member Noland (LAURENCE FISHBURNE) who they later meet -- has survived this experience, the group realizes the odds are against them. Yet, with Royce taking command, mainly to save his own hide, they set out to avoid being killed by their hunters and perhaps turn the tables on them.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Back in 1932, author Richard Connell wrote a short story, "The Hounds of Zaroff," that turned out to be quite seminal in terms of influencing later works. Better known as "The Most Dangerous Game," it featured a hunter who ended up stranded on an island inhabited by a big game hunter who had long since grown tired of hunting animals. In place of that, he moved over to targeting humans, giving them three days to survive his hunt.

The lasting metaphor of the work was that the hunter became the hunted, with the twist being that happened to both the protagonist and antagonist. Besides the 1932 film adaptation of the same name (shot, no less, on some of the sets of "King Kong" that was also in production at that time), that short story has been redone many times.

The most notable one, of course, was 1987's "Predator" where writers Jim Thomas & John Thomas, along with director John McTiernan (who was on a winning streak way back when, following that well-executed action flick with the even better "Die Hard" the following year) applied a sci-fi slant to the material by having the hunter being a technologically advanced extraterrestrial who, ironically enough, was after the heads of two future U.S. Governors, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

That was followed by the ill-conceived 1990 sequel and then "AVP: Alien vs. Predator" and "AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator - Requiem" in 2004 and 2007 respectively. With the series getting further away from its origins, and following the latest craze of resurrecting franchises, 20th Century Fox has hit the reboot button with "Predators." Clearly more of a second sequel to McTiernan's film than a continuation of the more recent entries, the film has jettisoned the face huggers and all other "Alien" artifacts in favor of getting back to the basics.

And that's essentially having the huge, armored, and mandible-faced predators hunting down heavily armed humans. But rather than having a commando unit stumble into a predator infested jungle and then get picked off one by one, director Nimród Antal, working from a script by writers Alex Litvak & Michael Finch, literally drops his characters into a jungle on another planet. As in the film starts by having Adrien Brody (who's apparently enjoying his detour into sci-fi with this film and the recent "Splice") plummeting toward terra firma, only to encounter others in the same predicament there.

Save for the slight doctor character played by Topher Grace, they're all trained soldiers or killers, thus presumably making the pending battle and hunting excursion seem like more of a fair fight than if they were simple plain Joes and Janes (or just Jane, as Alice Braga is the only female in sight, albeit a tough one at that).

Granted, we already know they'll suffer the same fate as their predecessors until only a few or just one are left, and thus the film doesn't contain any surprises, or originality, in such regards. Despite that and the obvious title, the filmmakers nevertheless seem intent on following the first film's trajectory of holding off with any early predator-related revelations -- most notably that they're crab-faced extraterrestrials and obvious fans of Connell's short story.

Beyond pretty much following the basic plot outline of the original film, it also features other bits of homage, including the long fall into a body of water scene, composer John Debney borrowing heavily from Alan Silvestri's terrific first score, and the closing credits song (Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally") being the same as played in the chopper delivery scene from the first pic.

While that's all fine and good, this film is also filled with enough annoying little problems that end up draining some of its pure, adrenaline-fueled fun. For instance, where are the preyed-upon humans carrying all of their ammo? They discharge enough throughout the film to keep a bullet manufacturer in business for a long time, but they supposedly only have what's with them upon their arrival (even Brody's take-charge character tells the others to conserve their bullets, but they don't and yet the ammo doesn't run out).

A quick script tweak -- they find ammo from previously hunted humans -- could have fixed that. Another similar tweak could have addressed why no one in the group -- despite Braga's character briefing them about exactly how Arnie's character managed to survive the '87 film) -- goes for a similar mud bath treatment to block the predator's ability to see their body heat.

Then there's the matter of how Laurence Fishburne's character managed to survive -- a la Newt from "Aliens" style -- a decade of being on the planet, or why the filmmakers seem intent on a heavy bit of "Apocalypse Now" homage with him. He says he was with the Air-Cav and even hums the Ride of the Valkyries tune -- both of which are related to Robert Duvall's unit that flew "Clean" and his crew upriver after a bit of surfing and napalm smelling in the morning -- and seems to be channeling Brando's Col. Kurtz character in terms of jungle-generated mental instability.

Yes, that bit did make me laugh (a rare moment of comic relief with no Schwarzenegger one-liners in sight), and much of those complaints are nitpicking. But it always bugs me -- as a former aspiring screenwriter -- that such sloppiness and/or distracting elements end up making their way onto the screen. That said, the action is decently handled and the film pretty much delivers on what its target audience is looking for -- predators and humans killing each other.

Considering the nature of all of these sequels, remakes and rebooted flicks, I'll borrow a concluding comment from my past reviews of such films. Had the original "Predator" never existed, this might have come across as so much better. But since the overall suspense is gone and much of what's offered is recycled, it ends up feeling a bit like reheated leftovers. It still goes down fairly easy (if you're into such monster/action mayhem) but the freshness is missing. "Predators" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 7, 2010 / Posted July 9, 2010

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