It’s back to basics with “Predators,” the fifth movie in the series that began in 1987 and got mixed up (and many would say waylaid) with “Aliens” in the process. The picture is essentially just a remake of the initial “Predator,” which in turn was little more than a sci-fi updating of Richard Connell’s classic human-as-game tale, “The Most Dangerous Game.” It hasn’t improved with age, and replacing Arnold Schwarzenegger with Adrien Brody is downsizing of a rather radical sort.
The big change this time around is that the targets for the predators’ hunt aren’t special forces troops who stumble into the earth jungle the aliens have invaded, but people—mostly soldiers and mercenaries, but criminals and a doctor—who are plucked from earth and deposited on another planet to serve as sport. The soldiers are Isabelle (Alice Braga), an Israeli and Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), a Russian fighting in Chechnya. The mercenaries are Royce (Brody) and Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali). Danny Trejo is Cuchillo, a South American drug enforcer, Walton Goggins is Stans, the death-row convict, and Louis Ozawa Changchien is Hanzo, a Yakuza mobster. And finally there’s Edwin (Topher Grace), a harmless-looking doctor who’s the odd man out.
It doesn’t take long for the group to realize they’re being hunted by those monstrous predators and their pack of hungry spiked hounds, and they’re picked off while trying to escape. A brief respite comes when they encounter Noland (Laurence Fishburne), a half-mad survivor from an earlier bunch of kidnapped humans, who tells them there are actually two types of predators to watch out for, which are hostile to each other. And there’s a last-act twist involving one of the characters, designed to increase the level of jeopardy. But by and large the picture follows a very familiar pattern, and reaches an utterly predictable conclusion.
There are some amusing moments in the movie. It’s kind of cool to watch Hanzo go up against a predator with a sword, samurai-style, for example. But even that scene is directed without flair by Nimrod Antal (“Armored”), and the flaccid pacing is exacerbated by Gyula Pados’ lackluster cinematography and John Debney’s generic score.
The cast respond with understandably tepid work. Brody, who’s quickly becoming his generation’s F. Murray Abraham—a Best Actor Oscar winner who makes nothing but junk—gives a stiff, uninteresting performance, though when he strips off his shirt for a fight, he looks buff. Grace, who once seemed ready to become a major star, has also fallen on hard times, it appears. And Fishburne really embarrasses himself as the addled survivor. No one else makes much of any impression, though Goggins repeats his “Justified” shtick with some success.
This movie isn’t the worst of the series—that’s certainly “Alien Vs. Predator.” But if you come out of “Predators” thinking you’ve seen it before, it’s because you have. Probably more than once.