WASHINGTON — In 1987, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in the action classic “Predator.”
Not only did it deliver an instant pop-culture quote (“Get to the chopper!”), it launched a six-film franchise that eventually merged with “Alien” (1979) to form the silly “Alien vs. Predator.”
Now, just as Ridley Scott revived his beloved brand with the “Prometheus” prequels, so does Shane Black attempt to resurrect John McTiernan’s baby with “The Predator,” a reboot that is well cast and suitably action-packed but with a script that is downright bizarre in its choices.
The film follows a rag-tag group of ex-soldiers trying to stop killer aliens known as Predators. The group is lead by biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) and former Army ranger Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who mails a Predator mask home for safe keeping. But when it’s unpacked by his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), it draws the Predators to invade the suburbs.
If you haven’t seen the trailer in advance, you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by the premise. The first 10 minutes open with a beat-by-beat recreation of the original: An opening shot of outer space, the whoosh of a spacecraft, commandos in the jungle, bloody victims hanging upside down, an invisible alien leaping from tree to tree, even someone saying, “Get to the chopper!”
But that’s where the similarities stop, as the plot veers into vastly different territory. While the original was confined to the jungle, the reboot shifts to the suburbs where the hero’s son wears the Predator mask for Halloween, blasting bullies with lasers. If that sounds silly, it’s because it is. The filmmakers are most likely going for the same vibe as Netflix’s “Stranger Things” (2016) and Stephen King’s “It” (2017), but the move doesn’t work with this property.
Quite the contrary, this concept worked far better in the jungle, forcing us to see less of the creature and instead joining “Rambo” for a post-Vietnam commentary of guerrilla warfare in the woods. It didn’t hurt that the original starred two future governors in Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, not to mention Carl Weathers and Shane Black, who writes and directs here.
Black similarly packs his reboot with a deep cast: Boyd Holbrook (“Logan”), Olivia Munn (“The Newsroom”), Sterling K. Brown (“This is Us”), Jacob Tremblay (“Room”), Trevante Rhodes (“Moonlight”), Keegan-Michael Key (“Key & Peele”) and Alfie Allen (“Game of Thrones”).
While the cast is talented, the script doesn’t do them any favors. Often times, the dialogue feels profane just for the sake of being profane. You’ll cringe to hear Brown drop “f-bombs” like “This is F’n Us.” We understand that he’s trying to show an edgier side from Randall Pearson and Christopher Darden, but it’s so forced that it’s surprising he agreed to do it.
Colorful language can work with the proper tone. The problem here is that the sense of humor feels like the locker-room banter of immature teenagers, especially as the ex-soldiers ride in the back of a Veteran Affairs van. An occasional “your mama” joke will land, but the rest is strikingly unfunny, particularly a character with Coprolalia Tourette’s (Aren’t impediments soooo hilarious?) blurting sexual jokes about Munn’s genitals (Did you cringe? Yeah, #MeToo).
With such a cavalier attitude, it should be no surprise to read about the film’s behind-the-scenes controversy. Munn recently blew the whistle on co-star Steven Wilder Striegel after she learned that he was a registered sex offender (quite literally a “predator”). As a result, 20th Century Fox cut a scene where he repeatedly hit on her in a park. Good for them, but as Munn straddles Holbrook reverse cowgirl on a motorcycle, Hollywood’s “male gaze” rages on.
I can’t imagine a female filmmaker making such a tone-deaf movie, which is why the film is such a disappointment from Black, who gave us such gems as “Lethal Weapon” (1987) and “Iron Man 3 (2013). However, much to Black’s credit, he does champion Rory’s Asperger’s Syndrome, arguing the autism spectrum is not a handicap but rather the next step on the evolutionary chain. In fact, this genius is the whole reason the aliens have come to earth.
Still, even these commendable choices can’t make up for the bizarre suburban setting, immature dialogue and gory graphics. “The Shape of Water” meet “The Shape of Slaughter.”