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{No audio this week. We apologize for the inconvenience.}

The nice thing about not being an official or professional movie critic is I can be surprised by things. I’ll read, watch and listen to other reviews and keep an eye and ear on the upcoming stuff hitting cinemas, but for the most part when I fire up the DVD player or pick an Instant selection, I can do so free of outside influences and deadlines, other than the polls. I’ve been trying to do that more since a couple people seem to think I need to have more thoughts of my own. In any event, I’m happy to say Predators surprised me. And it surprised me by being more than halfway decent in a really cool way.

Courtesy Troublemaker Studios

A guy in military kit with a wicked automatic shotgun gets dropped – literally – into a rainforest he doesn’t recognize. He soon encounters other folk with similar gear and just as much memory as him regarding how they got here, which is to say none. It soon becomes apparent that this ragtag group of strangers have been plucked from wherever they happened to be and have been brought to an alien world for a purpose. Like stocking a fishing pond with trout, these unfortunate folks have been put into this place just so they can be hunted by the eponymous Predators. Not all is what it seems, however, and the longer some of them survive, the more they learn about this world and the nature of their captors. Other than their wickedly advanced technology and that whole spine-ripping thing.

There’s always been something of an undercurrent of disappointment with sequels to the original Predator up until this point. Instead of increasing the scale of the action in what seems logical to those of us familiar with the success of Aliens as compared to Alien, the immediate sequel to Predator simply changed the setting to a humid LA landscape just slightly reminiscent of Robocop‘s privatized Detroit. From there the Predators got coupled with the aforementioned xenomorphs in some lackluster AVP entries that were nowhere near as awesome as the original graphic novel cross-over. They vanished from movies for a bit to appear in a couple video games, until one of those half-mad genius visionaries decided to give them one more chance at kicking some ass: Robert Rodriguez.

Courtesy Troublemaker Studios
From left: Heavy Weapons Guy, Surprise I Don’t Die First, That’s Mister Brody To You, Totally Not Ziva From NCIS, Badass Silent Yakuza Hitman

I covered his exploits as a director extensively last week, one or two factual hiccups aside, but this guy is actually to the production side of movies what “triple-threats” like Gene Kelly and Justin Timberlake are to the acting side. Not only is he a visionary director and a bold if somewhat tongue-in-cheek screenwriter, he’s also a no-nonsense producer. He’s backed almost as many films as he’s directed, and while some of them have been his own work, Predators is a project he’s thrown himself behind with obvious positive results. Nimród Antal had shown his directoral chops with small entries like Vacancy and Armored, and here Rodriguez has pointed his aesthetic sense directly at this long-awaited ‘genuine’ follow-up to that much-beloved if somewhat flaming 80s action classic.

Now, this isn’t exactly the next Inception, here. Don’t misunderstand. As much as I was having fun watching a genre-saavy Adrien Brody and several other notable character actors tromp through the jungle and wondering when and how the Predators were going to start picking them off, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that half the reason this movie got made was almost as an apology to long-suffering Predator fans who’d felt cheated out of a proper sequel for decades. It’s a B-movie, and makes no apologies about being a B-movie, so viewers interested in keeping their eyeballs unsullied by B-movies will want to give this one a pass. Finally, Predators tries to stand on its own to the degree of more than a few expository scenes filling time with back-and-forth with the characters about where they are and what’s going on as opposed to who they are.

Courtesy Troublemaker Studios
“Go ahead. Make fun of The Pianist again. Did you forget I’m an Oscar-winner, bitch?”

Then again, that might be part of the appeal of this sort of movie. The composition of the protagonist team is just diverse enough in personality as well as nationality to give us a snapshot of the kind of people the Predators feel ‘worthy’ of their attentions, and as much as this is not exactly a script that makes the ancient farts at the Academy salivate into their porridge, none of the actors seem to be phoning it in. There’s just enough sincerity to make the audience generally interested in what happens to these people, and just enough tongue-in-cheek callbacks to the original, reaching back over years of lackluster abuse of the IP, to give it a much-needed injection of awesomeness.

Fans of Predator, your years of disappointment are at an end. Fans of science-fiction action, this one’s right up your alley. Fans of Adrien Brody… well, he looks pretty cut and he’s actually got some decent one-liners, so yeah, give it a shot, but it’s not for the squeamish. It’s waiting for you on Netflix, but minor spoiler alert, folks: there are no helicopters in Predators. So, if you were hoping Adrien or perhaps Danny Trejo would have the opportunity to yell “GET TO DA CHOPPAH!!!”… sorry to disappoint.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.