The success of New Line Cinema in reinvigorating two of its moribund franchises with last year’s “Freddy Vs. Jason” apparently inspired Twentieth Century Fox to attempt the same trick with a couple of theirs, and the result is a loony effects-laden catastrophe that’s bound to destroy any affection audiences might have retained for the original movies. In this contest it’s boredom and stupidity that are victorious.
The picture is the brainchild–to use the term loosely–of writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson, whose distinguished roster of prior features includes “Mortal Kombat,” “Event Horizon,” “Soldier,” and “Resident Evil.” “AVP,” as the studio is sometimes calling it, fits right in with them–something that, given those titles’ consistent wretchedness, is really saying something. To get the two alien species into a single narrative in a way that wouldn’t break the studio bank but allow for humans in the mix, Anderson has concocted a scenario that few people besides Erich Von Daniken could love. It all starts with a scientific expedition to Antarctica, where a mysterious “hot” zone has been discovered beneath the ice. The mission, funded by billionaire businessman Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen, who played an android called Bishop in the second and third “Alien” movies–which also included mention of the Weyland Corporation), includes explorer “Lex” Woods (Sanaa Lathan, playing the equivalent of Ripley, Sigourney Weaver’s spirited female from “Alien”), handsome Italian archeologist Sebastian De Rosa (Raoul Bova, the hunk from “Under the Tuscan Sun”) and elfin Scottish engineer Graeme Miller (Ewen Bremner). What they discover–and get trapped in–is a pyramid of mixed Aztec, Egyptian and Cambodian design in which Predators live, perfecting their killing skills in combat against the offspring of a captured alien queen who (that?) produces a litter of the destructive little critters once every century. (The Predators, you see, were the “gods” of Von Daniken’s famous theories, who instructed all the ancient, pyramid-loving cultures on earth.) What follows is a conflict between Predators and Aliens in which our hapless humans are caught in the middle, trying to save their race against the murderous impulses of the two extraterrestrial species. Ultimately, we learn that it’s the Predators who share a spark of humanoid sympathy with us, though what they seem to prize is our resident blood-instinct.
The struggle-for-survival-against-apparently-invincible-foes stuff is obviously patterned after both the four “Alien” movies and the two “Predator” ones, but it would take a lot more pyramid power than Anderson can muster to give it any verve or sense of freshness. The battles between aliens and predators are even duller than the mano-a-mano stuff between Freddy and Jason was last year, because though those two were immortal and indestructible, they at least looked vaguely like human beings, whereas the titular combatants this time around are just special effects constructs with no discernible personality (and no ability to follow Freddy’s lead in making at least a few bad jokes and puns). As for the so-called people caught up in the fray, they’re just stock figures that the actors can’t invest with any humanity. Lathan is lovely but not a patch on Weaver, Bova is stilted and wooden (it doesn’t help that his line readings are so poor–it’s as if he doesn’t comprehend what he’s saying half the time), Bremner fails to provide the comic relief he’s supposed to, and Henriksen just relies on his old horror-movie shtick of quiet menace. (He’s not the robot Bishop was in “Aliens” and its sequel, but he seems equally artificial.) It doesn’t help that they, and all the unfortunate supporting players, are each provided with exactly one basic characteristic each to define them–and that most of them are obviously designed to serve as little more than disposable slabs of meat to be sliced, diced and pureed as the mechanics of the plot require. On the technical side the picture is no great shakes, despite boasting the services of effects veterans John Bruno (“The Abyss”) and the team of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. (lots of films in addition to the “Alien” series), and of David Johnson, a cinematographer who’s done solid work in the past (apart from “Resident Evil,” which frankly looked terrible). The creature effects are strictly run-of-the-mill, and the look of the picture is so dank and gloomy that it’s often difficult to discern what’s even going on. (The arctic set design is among the most unconvincing portrait of those frigid regions in many a moon.) Harald Kloser’s score is drably efficient, showing none of the imagination or shimmering beauty of Jerry Goldsmith’s for the first “Alien.” It makes one feel even more acutely the loss the world of cinema suffered with that great composer’s recent death.
The bottom line is that “Alien Vs. Predator,” though loud and brutally paced and edited, is far more silly than scary. In the “versus” genre, “King Kong Vs. Godzilla” was much more fun, and you’d be hard pressed to argue that this is better than even “Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Server,” lousy as that was. In truth, “Kramer Vs. Kramer” was more terrifying–when Dustin Hoffman snorts those nostrils, he’s much more intimidating than either Alien or Predator. But the best matchup of all was certainly 1969’s “Bambi Meets Godzilla”–no “vs.” in the title, perhaps, but at just a couple of minutes it’s much more clever and satisfying than Anderson’s latest debacle.
Now that the cycle has revved up, maybe next summer we’ll get “The Killer Shrews Vs. The Giant Gila Monster.” Or perhaps it will just be “Jennifer Vs. Ben” or “Uma Vs. Ethan.” Be afraid–be very afraid.