I was 7 years old when Predator
came out. Yes, indulge an old man, please. We didn't have the internet or multiplexes, so inevitably my memory of that film was formed much later. At a VHS rental place, renting it for 7 rupees, I could feel this was something special. It wasn't just the action - it was an action movie like we used to love in the '80s. Great action, sure, but memorable lines, fantastic characters, and a mood that fired up a child's imagination.
20 years on, they have done everything they could to run this franchise to the ground. The urban sequel was atrocious and ill thought of, but the subsequent attempts at merging it with the Alien franchise were unwatchable. So when Troublemaker with its quick shooting and low-budget aesthetic took a stab at bringing the franchise back to its roots, I was at least hopeful. Throw in genre director Nimród Antal, and this could be interesting.
Ultimately it's just that - an interesting high concept with some decent kills genre fans will love, and a film that isn't a blight on the entire franchise. The high concept doesn't get thinner than this - an American Black Ops soldier (Adrien Brody), a Death Row inmate (Walton Goggins), a drug cartel strongman (Danny Trejo), a Sierra Leone RUF soldier (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a Russian Spetsnaz soldier (Oleg Taktarov) a Japanese Yakuza (Louis Ozaqa Changchien), and a IDF sniper (Alicia Braga) all find themselves para-dropped in an unknown jungle, and very soon twig that it's an alien planet and that they are being hunted for practice by Predators.
It's the sort of plot concept a child comes up with: throw in a bunch of really bad-ass guys and let them fight the Predators in a jungle. The film never goes beyond that, either. The character descriptions are stand-in for actual characters. They don't have personality, they just have their background. It's not like the '87 Predator was full of thespians, but you could see beyond their accents and see an action movie person. Here, it's just their profession and accent.
Thankfully, the low budget action is quite well-done. There are some neat kills, and the action's low budget means that it is more in your face visceral action than lots of special effects budget being wasted. There's nothing memorable, but it's interesting to watch and entertaining in the moment. There's even an attempt at a 'twist' at the end, but if you cannot see through the Topher Grace character, you are not the audience for this film.
Actually, even if you are the intended audience, it's not like the rest of the film serves you better. The writing, for one, is atrocious. Not action movie bad, but simply amateurish and painful. If a film you're watching has a speech by a guy about how he'd like to go back home so that he can rape some women, the writing, sir, is suspect.
In fact most of the film feels as if it was made by fans with a very large budget, instead of by professionals at a small one. Despite the fan movie aesthetic, or perhaps because of it, the film feels fresh and entertaining, just not memorable. Its cringe-worthy dialogue and wafer-thin plot may not add to the charm, but you may be willing to forgive, depending on your takeaway from the rest of the film.
Sometimes, to prove that a franchise still has legs, you need a silly, forgettable, yet well-made film to kick things off. Here's hoping that some other 12-year-old is going to have his mind blown and his imagination fired up by the time the next one comes around.