Expendable, by Bob Connally

15 Sep

In the mid-‘80s, Shane Black was the Hollywood screenwriting wunderkind whose script for Lethal Weapon turned him into a hot property at the age of just 24. Around that same time Lethal Weapon’s producer Joel Silver cast Black in a small role in another film, Predator. Mainly Black was brought in to have a screenwriter on set to help punch up the film’s script mid-production. Physically he didn’t exactly fit in as a member of the military unit which featured the likes of Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, and of course Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unsurprisingly his character, Hawkins, primarily serves as comic relief before he’s the first member of the team to be killed by the titular monster.

While it’s unclear how much Black really added to the final product as a writer, Predator ended up being a huge hit and, just like Lethal Weapon, has endured with audiences 31 years after its release. Also like Lethal Weapon, Predator spawned numerous sequels but, unlike Lethal Weapon 2 (for my money the Citizen Kane of my favorite subgenre: buddy cop movies), no Predator sequel has come anywhere close to the quality or popularity of the original. So wisely, Fox decided to give Black himself a crack at it as a writer and director. Unfortunately, their wisdom did not carry through The Predator’s production.

After being a screenwriter for the better part of 20 years, Black finally tried his hand as a director in 2005 with his buddy detective comedy action opus Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The result was one of the funniest and best films of that decade and probably the single biggest reason Robert Downey, Jr. ended up with the role of Tony Stark. Black wouldn’t direct again for another 8 years when he reunited with Downey on the underrated Iron Man 3. Black’s third directorial effort, 2016’s The Nice Guys was more in the vein of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and very nearly as good. It seemed if there was ever going to be a worthy sequel to Predator, Black would be the filmmaker to deliver it. For all we know, maybe he did but if the behind the scenes stories are to be believed, Fox’s meddling and re-shoots changed the movie drastically. While I’m not saying that Black can’t have possibly dropped the ball himself somewhat, given his track record I’m inclined to believe that the often muddled nature of this film has more to do with studio bumbling than poor writing or direction.

From its first scene something feels amiss here. It’s a scene so silly that it seemed certain to be a fake-out. I expected – and sincerely hoped for – a reveal that one of our lead characters was watching this on television. That reveal never came. Making matters worse, the scene proves an entirely unnecessary set-up before introducing the film’s hero, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, Logan), who very quickly gets his own introduction to a predator. Quinn escapes the encounter with his life but the other members of his military unit aren’t so lucky. Having seen an alien, Quinn expects the government to want to keep it and him under wraps. Acting quickly, he gathers up the pieces of predator technology left behind, mailing them to a P.O. Box back home before getting arrested.

The agent in charge of containing the situation, Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, Black Panther) sends Quinn to prison with a group of soldiers suffering from PTSD. Traeger meanwhile enlists the help of biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to study a heavily sedated living predator. As for the mailed predator tech, it ends up being delivered to the home of Quinn’s ex-wife, Emily (Yvonne Strahovski, Chuck), unwittingly opened and activated by their young autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay, Room). As one can probably guess, Quinn and the soldiers break free, the predator escapes the lab, Rory has unknowingly put himself in grave danger, and all of these story elements converge.

The best handled aspect of the movie is the camaraderie that develops between Quinn and his makeshift team of ragtag soldiers. Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) and Thomas Jane (who just wants his kids back) are particularly fun playing off of each other; so much so that I found myself wishing I was watching a Shane Black-helmed buddy cop movie starring the two of them that didn’t suffer from studio interference. The sequences featuring the team have plenty of Shane Black’s signature banter, they showcase some good ensemble work, and they’re the scenes where The Predator feels as though it’s being allowed to breathe. There are some fantastic predator kills throughout the film as well. Sadly however, the action sequences are mostly a mess due to poor editing, the CGI work is so bad as to suggest the visual effects team wasn’t given enough time to finish it properly, and worst of all the storytelling and character development are generally unsatisfying. This kind of movie doesn’t need to have incredible depth in terms of story and characters to work but there is a lot that is hinted at that isn’t sufficiently explored. The film simply feels incomplete. The only aspect that the film spends much time exploring is the one that it shouldn’t have: predator mythology. Like most movie monsters, the less we know about the predators the better. The first film told us all we needed to know. They come to earth to hunt people they deem a challenge for sport. This film tries to explain too much about why they’re on earth, an aspect for which Black most likely is to blame.

Whether you’re a Shane Black fan, a fan of the original Predator, or just a general moviegoer, The Predator is decidedly a disappointment. There are enough good elements peppered throughout that it’s not a disaster but there was real promise here that went unrealized. Instead of going to see this I would recommend a night in with either the original 1987 classic or with Black’s own Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Or just watch both of them back to back because movie nights don’t get much better than that.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply