‘The Predator’ Is a Loud, Bombastic and Bloody Return to 80’s Sci-Fi

The Predator” is a comic book film but not a good one. For the first half of the movie, the director Shane Black and writer Fred Dekker channel B movie science fiction. It’s an exhilarating experience. Loud bombastic music explodes on to the soundtrack barely able to keep up with the frantic pace of the movie. An alien cruiser explodes through a rift in the cosmos on a crash course with Earth. An American sniper takes out Mexican drug dealers before being distracted by the crashing spaceship. Shadowy mercenaries arrive soon after led by the “Deep State” government toady Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), the evil side of Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Fury.

It’s full on 80’s nostalgia. There’s even a nerdy skinny kid more brilliant than any adult. And it works. Sure it’s not deep. It’s certainly not meant to be. But that beginning makes promises about the rest of the film, and for half of the movie, it keeps those promises. And then something goes wrong.

The movie starts with Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). He’s strong-willed, street smart and skilled to a fault. He’s a nice guy for someone who kills on command. He is the first to encounter the first Predator (There is a second). He defeats him briefly, steals some of his gear and mails it to his family. For the crime of encountering the alien, bad man Traeger sends him to the military loony bin. On the way he creates allies of a bunch of genuinely insane ex-military. They will serve as Captain Quinn’s “Howling Commandos.”

The film has its faux feminist moments introducing two strong women making tough choices and standing up to bad guys. The most prominent of the two is Olivia Munn who as Dr. Casey Brackett represents the NRA’s ideal academic. She is smarter than almost anyone (except for the little boy), accomplished and can shoot a gun, any gun, regardless of recoil. There’s no real explanation of how she got this good, almost as good as McKenna, who benefited from a lot of taxpayer-supported training.

Yvonne Strahovski plays Emily, McKenna’s ex-wife and mother to Rory (Jacob Tremblay) the smart kid. As an abandoned spouse, there is certainly enough there dramatically that she could have been more interesting than she ends up being. The actress was strong enough to do it. But then again this is Shane Black directing and not Kathryn Bigelow.

And then there are the dogs. What happened to the real pit bull last seen running to the helicopter? Why bring up him up at all? The alien dog (There is an alien dog.) fares a little better, showing up only long enough to drop something from its mouth and then disappearing until the next time it appears with something in its mouth.

One cannot help but wonder what happened to make the second half so disjointed. Was there a committee decision to emphasize speed over narrative logic? It’s not so much what’s in the film as it is what seems to be missing. The second half of the film is lost in a hurried rush to do too much in too short of time. By the end of the movie you wonder what happened to this character or this dog?

But “The Predator” can be very funny sometimes. The misfit allies provide much of the humor for straight man McKenna. Even the Predator himself gets in on the joke-making, providing a gruesome twist to the idea of a “thumbs up.”  Especially fun was the running discussion over whether “Predator” was technically the best term for the alien when “sports hunter” seems much more appropriate.

It’s too bad the movie had to turn out this way. At the beginning there was a promise of something fun only to be replaced by a fast paced loss of focus. A promise of fun nostalgia that is replaced by erratic story telling that happens way too quickly.

The Predator” opens Sept. 14 in theaters nationwide.