“The Predator” is undeniably some real hot trash — as proudly and outrageously stupid as any blockbuster in recent memory. It looks and feels and acts like a messy, murky sci-fi action movie straight out of 1998. Even by the standards of this historically spotty series, the film reaches new heights of absurdity.
For these reasons and more, I grinned like an idiot for most of its running time.
This dumb, bloody, ugly movie knows what it is and embraces it. It’s snarkily funny and (mostly) self-aware. It moves fast and breaks things, and doesn’t care about such concerns as good taste or narrative coherence.
Its appeal for me, no doubt, comes from my abiding affection for the junk I grew up on. So consider the following an enthusiastic recommendation for just some of you. Such nonsense will have relatively narrow appeal.
Though “The Predator” will hold special local interest for my fellow Good-Lifers. The film features what has to be the world record for people screaming “Nebraska!” in a movie. (Your move, Alexander Payne.)
This is not because the movie is set in or anywhere near the state, but because one of the leads of the movie — Trevante Rhodes of “Moonlight” — is named Nebraska Williams. Actually, his real name is Gaylord. How he got or adopted the nickname Nebraska is never explained. In any case, #GoBigPred! (Sorry.)
Nebraska pride aside, if you go into “The Predator” expecting a “good” movie or even a “good ‘Predator’ ” movie, well, um ... don’t do that. But there’s much to like about the new film beyond its inadvertent boon to our tourism economy.
“The Predator” was written and directed by Shane Black, who, incidentally, played Hawkins, the first character to die on-screen at the hands of the Predator in the 1987 original.
But Black is much better known for writing and directing macho action movies with acerbically funny dialogue. He penned “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” and wrote/directed “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Iron Man 3” and “The Nice Guys.”
Black, who co-wrote “The Predator” with Fred Dekker, has managed to yet again squeeze in all his Shane Black-isms. Whatever the genre, if it’s a Black script, you can count on: 1. A wanton disregard for human life. 2. An interracial buddy comedy. 3. A precocious child in peril. And 4. Manly men quipping in the face of certain death.
And all the Black-isms pair surprisingly well with a kooky plot about 11-foot aliens and PTSD-ridden soldiers.
So the film is a straight-up sequel to the first three “Predator” movies, and begins with a regular-sized Predator (that mean, mandible-mouthed alien who enjoys huntin’ folks) crash-landing on Earth. A much bigger Predator is in pursuit in another spaceship.
Their unidentified flying objects draw the interest of a secret agency that studies Predators, led by the jovial but sociopathic Traeger (Sterling K. Brown).
Several other people end up in the wrong place at the wrong time: a biologist (Olivia Munn), an American sniper (Boyd Holbrook) and the sniper’s autistic son (Jacob Tremblay), who is the only one with a decent grasp on the Predators’ advanced weapon technology.
Also along for the ride are a busload of mentally unstable ex-soldiers — one of them named Nebraska. The so called “loonies” are played by Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera. They might all be nuts, but in that lovable, funny and movie sorta way. What they say is juvenile, but if Shane Black knows how to do one thing extraordinarily well, it’s to build up fun, snappy camaraderie between violent men. These guys are gifted in murder. But their true talents lie in insulting each other’s mothers.
You can say this for the ensemble: Goofy as they are, you enjoy their company enough that you don’t want to see them die horrible deaths. Fortunately, there are about 100 other no-name characters for our ugly aliens to slaughter.
Before long, small Predator and big Predator (and their Predator dogs, too) are ripping off faces and cuttin’ people in half.
The action and spectacle range from decent to dreadful. The sequences are choppily edited, generally, with scene B not always following scene A with a great deal of logic. The big Predator is computer-generated and looks like a cartoon next to his smaller counterpart, who, like previous Predators, was achieved using practical effects and a really tall stuntman.
Yet even the movie’s “problems” appealed to me, as they felt so refreshingly out-of-date. Watching “The Predator” feels like watching a movie that’s 20 or 30 years old, like popping a worn-out VHS tape into the VCR and having your low expectations pleasantly met, occasionally surpassed.
The film also capably races through its busy, hysterical plot, which involves: climate change, a human-Predator hybrid, Gary Busey’s son playing the son of Gary Busey’s character from “Predator 2,” middle-school bullies, a Halloween costume that kills a man and, cutest of all, a Predator dog who ends up being a very gooooood boyyyyy!
If this all sounds ridiculous to you, then congratulations! You are a sane person with good taste, and this movie’s probably not for you.
“The Predator” is ambitiously dumb, both in ways it’s aware and unaware. But in either case, it put a stupid smile on my face for 107 minutes. In closing ... “Nebraska!”