Why am I not surprised that Shane Black is the filmmaker who cast a convicted sex-offender buddy of his and had him play a scene opposite a beautiful woman? (And on the set of a movie called The Predator, no less.) That move is typical of a filmmaker whose movies have trafficked in macho crap since he got started in the 1980s. Back in those days, he could have pulled a stunt like that and nobody would have said anything, but not now. Then again, The Predator is essentially a 1980s movie, which is not always for the better.
Set in the present day, it stars Boyd Holbrook as Quinn McKenna, an Army Ranger sniper who’s scoping out a drug cartel op in Mexico when a predator’s spaceship lands there, and the creature starts killing everyone in sight, including Quinn’s men. He gets away, but back in the States, his sighting of the alien lands him on a bus transporting ex-soldiers to a mental facility. Regrettably, he ships some of the predator’s gear home before that happens, and it winds up in the hands of his estranged young son (Jacob Tremblay from Room), whose Asperger’s syndrome oh-so-conveniently allows him to decipher the alien race’s language. Quinn must team up with both a biology professor (Olivia Munn) and the bus’ “loonies,” as they call themselves, to save his son from both the predators and a soulless CIA bigwig (Sterling K. Brown, giggling menacingly to himself) who’s willing to kill the boy and his own soldiers to get the alien tech.
Though this series has had numerous sequels, none of them (including this one) has picked up on what made the first movie so subversive. Made at a time of muscle-bound action heroes, the 1987 film Predator was a post-Vietnam War work that gave us the spectacle of big, strong men coming apart mentally while facing an invisible enemy striking at them from the trees with superhuman force. Black misses his chance to tie this new story into our current endless wars in the Middle East, as his military men operate with dull competence and logic. Without this element, the predators are mere sci-fi monsters, slasher-flick villains who kill uniformed soldiers instead of hot teenagers. The loonies, too, are a fun bunch (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen), but their various mental illnesses are played for laughs when a slightly more serious treatment might have benefited the movie.
There are simply too many moving parts in this story for Black to handle. This filmmaker is at his best when he’s being shaggy and humorous (like in his delightful 2005 thriller Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), but this story brings out all his bombastic, posturing tendencies. It defeats both him and The Predator.
Starring Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, and Sterling K. Brown. Directed by Shane Black. Written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black. Rated R.