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Urban Predator loses its bite

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Latest instalment has few of its predecessors’ horror trappings

The Predator (15)
Running time 1hr 47min
Rating: **

WHILE a superb actioner in its own right, 1987’s Predator has never naturally owed itself to the billion-dollar franchise treatment lavished upon its spiritual cousin, Alien, despite the best efforts of parent company 20th Century Fox to give either child time in the limelight. This has much to do with the titular antagonist as a concept – the Predator is simply a monster who spends his weekends picking off humans. In the creativity sweepstakes, there’s no real contest between the Xenomorph – unknowable, unkillable, devoid of anything in the way of a conscience – and the alien equivalent of that guy who shot Cecil the Lion.

Still, this hasn’t stopped Shane Black (who appeared as a character in the original Predator) from returning to the jungle for a fourth cinematic endeavour. The ‘jungle’ in question, as in Predator 2, is an urban one; The Predator eschews the crowd-pleasing kill-or-be-killed hook of the first and third films in favour of a slower, more character-focused approach. It mostly flirts with comedy and family drama – a risky move, to say the least – with few of its predecessors’ horror trappings. In case you’ve ever wondered why it’s taken almost 10 years to get another Predator movie off the ground, consider the convolutions of The Predator’s plot – there’s enough material knocking around in here to fill at least three sequels and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out the script was spliced together from the remains of several aborted projects (à la Alien 3’s tortured conception).

Trashy as they were, earlier Predator movies were driven by a real sense of mystery and coincidence (Arnie and co essentially ran into the Pred in Part Un); that special touch is missing here, as sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) has an alien encounter while on a mission in Mexico. The film then proceeds to get wrapped up in a string of meandering subplots, all leading, of course, towards a final set piece that’s far more in keeping with the spirit of the series thus far (and all the better for it). Prior to that, we get a Predator-centred monster mash, featuring the usual run of gory hijinks, cool gadgets and forest pursuits. There’s also the foundations of a Stranger Things-esque kids adventure flick thrown in for good measure, as Rory (Jacob Tremblay), Quinn’s savant son, brings extra-terrestrial tech to bear in middle-class suburbia. But the first section of the film is mostly taken up by a bizarre pseudo-road trip involving battle-scarred war veterans, as Quinn ropes a ragtag squad of PTSD-addled Devil Dogs into his hunt for the Predator (Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes, the best among the latter contingent, lays on a gleefully unhinged performance as a suicidal officer). So the main stretch of a film involving an intergalactic assassin and his reptilian space-dogs is instead taken up by a dark, vulgar farce more reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest than anything in this franchise’s repertoire. There are some good gags, but for the most part, the movie makes for an arduous, unconvincing sell.

The first Predator was panned for its total lack of character development. As if to compensate, Black has delivered a movie that tries way too hard (and still falls all too short) in that department. Whereas a huge amount of time is devoted to random grunts and to the hackneyed McKenna father-son relationship, offensively little is made of the female stars (namely Olivia Munn’s evolutionary biologist, effectively a kickass cardboard cutout). It’s a film that’s content to get waylaid and its iconic adversary loses much of its bite in the process.

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