The stripped-down premise and formal exactitude of John McTiernan’s 1987 Predator are precisely not present in Shane Black’s The Predator, the latest attempt to drag-out and elaborate on a franchise that shouldn’t be burdened by much more than ‘scary monster kills people.’ This new installment collapses under the weight of four separate groups of characters whose plot strands strain to intertwine before the show can get rolling — and what’s worse, Black’s film bears all the hallmarks of studio interference and reshoots. The baggy plot involves Special Forces sniper McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), whose latest kill in Mexico gets interrupted by a crashing alien spacecraft, from which he retrieves some strange tech that he realizes a lot of people might want. So naturally he mails it to himself before heading home. Which is where the package arrives, now in the care of his estranged wife and, more importantly, his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who immediately starts employing his newfound Predator gear against the bullies who pick on him. Meanwhile, biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is recruited, for reasons that are entirely unclear, by the military to come look at the Predator that’s been rescued from the Mexico crash. And the gaggle of PTSD-inflicted soldiers on the way to the mental hospital hasn’t even shown up yet. Did I mention that all of this inexplicably takes place — secret government base and everything — in McKenna’s hometown?
Black’s a mediocre director of action, shooting everything in murky darkness without a hint of geography.
Black, who actually appeared as an actor in the original Predator, crams his film’s endless expository scenes with running gags, callbacks, and profane verbal fireworks. He also revels in sudden, bloody violence that gets palmed-off with a smarmy, self-aware joke. His voice is unmistakable and amusing, and tonal whiplash is his forte. But it’s usually accompanied by some really deceptively economic setup/payoff storytelling — whereas this overstuffed roster of characters bounces from scene to scene with a ramshackle abandon (the most obvious evidence of those aforementioned reshoots and that studio interference). The cast will be lounging in McKenna’s house cracking jokes one minute, then heading down the road in a weapons-laden RV the next, with no hint as to how they got from one place to another or where they’re going. Day will suddenly turn into night. Continuity errors abound, and characters simply disappear. Black’s also a mediocre director of action, shooting everything in murky darkness without a hint of geography. It’s all bloat in service of forcibly expanding a simple premise into a franchise-machine that the idea can’t support.