I think I missed out on a lot of classic ‘80s films when I was a kid. Somehow I didn’t see films like “Pretty in Pink,” “The Terminator” and “Aliens” until I was an adult. And until last weekend’s viewing of the recently released “The Predator,” I hadn’t seen any films in the franchise.
I asked what backstory I needed to know as we were going in. I know Schwarzenegger was in the original film — 1987’s “Predator” — and apparently a lot of people really love that film. Luckily, what I needed to know wasn’t hard to figure out. Armored aliens take on humans (or sometimes other aliens), and they kill a lot of folks before being taken out themselves.
The franchise has had some installments over the years, and the 2018 release feels like it’s trying to be a continuation of the story. I’m guessing at that one, but the film feels like it’s trying pretty hard to make a connection to the past.
The film begins with a predator crash landing on Earth and encountering an Army sniper, McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who manages to survive the skirmish while his team doesn’t. Not only does he live, he manages to steal some of the alien’s tech. He promptly ships it off to the home of his estranged wife, Emily (Yvonne Strahovski), and son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay).
Obviously, the government wants to keep the alien visit a secret. McKenna is put on a bus with other soldier “loonies,” as they call themselves, while his son, who is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, learns how to use the tech. This makes perfect sense because if you’re going to have a character on the spectrum, he has to be portrayed as a baby Rain Man. He’s also picked on by bullies at school because if you’re going to be unoriginal, do it right. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?
While this is happening, we bring in a third storyline of Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), who’s been brought in by the government as a consultant because the Predator has been captured. Spoiler alert: Capturing a killer alien never goes well, and this film is no different. The scientific unit is led by a man named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), who’s the ultimate jackass.
Needless to say, the alien escapes, Bracket connects with McKenna and his crew, and the film progresses from there. There’s plenty of camaraderie and slaughter to be had, you know.
So, here’s the thing. Director Shane Black is at the helm of this thing, and he’s a pretty talented director. He’s the man behind some great films like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Iron Man 3.” Even “The Nice Guys,” which came out a couple of years ago, was pretty good. Heck, he was even in the original “Predator” movie.
And yet, “The Predator” falls apart on so many levels. The action isn’t that great, the leads aren’t overly dynamic, and the film is a cinematic Swiss cheese because of all the plot holes.
Holbrook is boring, Munn is completely unbelievable as either a scientist or a badass, and Brown, who’s a crazy good actor — have you seen “This is Us”? — is a waste of space. He’s an over-the-top villain who might as well be laughing maniacally at random junctures. Strahovski’s character disappears completely. She’s seriously only in the film to deliver a semi-decent monologue and literally disappear. She went off with a gun and was never seen again.
All that being said, there’s exactly one thing that works in this film. One. I said McKenna is put on a bus with other soldiers that are considered mentally unfit. That bus full of soldiers has the film’s only magic. They’re fun and engaging, and I could watch a whole film of just them. In fact, I wish I had watched a whole film of just them.
While Munn and others might have been horribly miscast, this bus of insane men is spot on. Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes (of “Moonlight” fame), Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen (“Game of Thrones”) and Augusto Aguilera make up a ragtag bunch of misfits. Rhodes probably gets the most screen time, but I’d be hard pressed to say he’s as memorable as the characters Key and Jane play. The group makes the film feel like it’s borrowed moments from “The Dirty Dozen” or “The Magnificent Seven.” They’re a bunch of misfits and screw-ups, but they’re interesting and engaging, which is more than I can say for most of the film. They proved to be the only really likable characters in the film, which is a downer when you realize you’re just waiting for them to die.
“The Predator” had a great director and a cast of some truly talented folks. I say some because some of these people are just awful. ... I’m looking at you, Munn. Yet, opportunities are squandered. The film sets up a sequel and rumored trilogy, which probably won’t happen. I can’t say that I’m disappointed.
“The Predator” should have been a knockout, and it looked like it could be on paper. However, that’s why you make movies. Kinda like playing a game. You never know what’s going to happen. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. This definitely is a loss.