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Move Review: Shane Black's "The Predator" Is a Stupid, Violent and Very Fun Guilty Pleasure

Starring Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, 
Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown
Based on characters created by Jim Thomas and John Thomas
Screenplay by Fred Dekker & Shane Black
Directed by Shane Black

Reviewed by Patrick Gibbs

 Out of Four

1987's Predator was not perceived as anything too special at the time, but it has since achieved  pop culture classic status, and it's easily one of Schwarzenegger's better action thrillers (probably his best without James Cameron), and the first movie in Director John McTiernan's Holy Trinity (Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October).  It spawned a painfully weak sequel with Danny Glover, as well as a few spin offs. Now, Shane Black, the uncredited script doctor on the original (who agreed to do the film if they'd let him play a member of the unit), has been tasked with giving us the first full fledged, legit entry in the series since 1990.

Boyd Holbrook (Logan) stars as Quinn McKenna, a black ops military assassin who discovers the existence of the fierce Predators, barely surviving the encounter. He takes a couple of souvenirs from the creature's armor, specifically a face mask and wrist piece, because he knows that no one will believe him.  He decides to mail them to himself for safe keeping. And he's right  about no one believing him:after being questioned he's locked up in facility for soldiers suffering with various psychological issues, and finds himself being transported on a bus full of soldiers with their own . . . let's say "issues." Meanwhile, Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), a biologist who grew up dreaming of one day finding a "space animal", is recruited by the government to consult on a top secret project.

(Images Courtesy 20th Century Fox)

That's about all I can really say about the plot set up without fear of heading into spoiler territory, and frankly the film is so jumbled and chaotic that it would be difficult to go much further anyway. Suffice it to say, it's not long at all before all hell breaks loose and the body count starts jumping into the high double digits (it may very well reach the triples. I lost track.).

The Predator never takes itself seriously, and there's a lot more humor here than in previous incarnations. The goofiness never really comes close to reaching the inspired levels of Black's best work (Kiss, Kiss bang Bang, The Nice Guys), but it's frequently amusing (if often in a juvenile way.).. It's also packed so full of wild and thrilling action from the get go that the run time flies right by, even if you're frequently having to take a few mental steps backward to catch up with what just happened/who just got ripped in half.

In terms of tone and storytelling, it's most comparable to Black's Iron Man 3, with that throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, "this is off the rails nonsensical and crazy but I'm having so much fun I don't care" feel most of the way, though it's obviously got a lot more crazy violence and gore than you'll see in a Marvel Studios film (this is the kind of movie for people who laugh at over the top. bloody mayhem, and if you have never found yourself in that category, don't even bother with this one.). The pressure to live up to the adult content expectation and to please the target audience makes for wisecracking that too often focuses more on profane shock value than the biting wit we got from Tony, Happy, Pepper and the gang.). But it definitely shares the wry sense of self parody.

The Predator works because Black knows exactly what kind of fun he's trying to create, and the very solid cast seems to be having a lot of fun as well. Holbrook has a lot of charm, and while Munn's character is underwritten, she makes the most of every moment she is given and can really handle herself in the action scenes. The Dirty Dozen-esque members of Quinn McKenna's make shift team (aka the guys he's stuck on the bus with) are strong actors, but instead of being given characters they are simply assigned basic quirks and disorders so we can remember which is which (because apparently, PTSD is fun!) Sterling K. Brown's smarmy government agent isn't exactly the most complete character he's ever played (he got a deeper character in his extended cameo in Black Panther), but he's got screen presence to spare. And it goes without saying that young Jacob Tremblay is perfect in his role.

(Images Courtesy 20th Century Fox)

It's important to remember that Shane Black doesn't make movies that take place in the real world. He's a far less pretentious Tarantino, and he makes movies of movies. He's long been one of my favorites when it comes to junk food cinema, and his best work (from the original Lethal Weapon to some of his films as a director) have been gourmet juk food.  A lot of the logic holes and more problematic elements can be forgiven due to the kind of film this is, though the portrayal of mental illness is at best insensitive in a very Hollywood kind of way, and at worst irresponsibly inaccurate (especially Thomas Jane's character, whose Tourette syndrome is treated as psychological instead of neurological, which simply is not how it works.). Tremblay's young autistic genius is a lovable and well played character, but as the uncle of autistic children, I have mixed feelings: I am often torn between feelings of joy whenever I see an autistic character portrayed as strong and capable, and the nagging concern that if every autistic child in a movie is portrayed as a pint sized Einstein, we're setting up high functioning autistic children up to feel inadequate about their own accomplishments if they don't match over the top movie portrayals.

Cinematographer Larry Fong (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Super 8) does some very nice work, but the MVP here is Henry Jackman, providing a thrilling orchestral score heavily based on Alan Silverstri's original, but even more rousing.

All in all, The Predator delivers well enough on what the fans want out of it that it gets a  recommendation from me, even if it's a qualified one. It will hardly make my 10 best list, but I had a blast, and I'm going to wanted to check it out in IMAX.  If you love the original and if you enjoy Black's work, you should be able to check your brain at the door and buckle in for a wild ride.

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