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Taking the stage before the midnight premiere of his new movie The Predator, Shane Black assured the giddy audience at the Toronto International Film Festival that they weren't about to see a "film." They were sitting down for a "movie." Black knows the difference, and if you are into the types of genre movies that The Predator mirrors -- a little sloppy, a little cheesy, intentionally rough-around-the-edges but bristling with blood, gore and attitude -- then you will enjoy the sci-fi ride on display here. The Predator knows its role, acting as a fun, hyper-violent and often hilarious throwback to 1980s action horror, with clever kills and a memorable band of misfit anti-heroes. And while the bar by previous installments is ridiculously low, I don't think it oversteps to call this movie the best Predator sequel, and the only one that's close in tone to the Schwarzenegger-led jungle boogie that launched this franchise back in 1987.
It took a member of the original Predator cast to connect back to what made the original Predator connect with a mainstream audience. Shane Black had a minor role in the 1987 feature, and now directs The Predator as if we're still in that late '80s/early '90s motif. (For real, when Fox eventually puts this movie on home video, it needs to be packaged and released on VHS instead of a Blu-ray.) Some might be puzzled by this approach -- the performances are broad, the pacing is frantic, practical effects can look a little cheap and sleazy -- but that added to the nostalgic gift wrap around this gratuitously gory Predator story.
That story is hardly complicated. A Predator has crash landed on our planet. Yes, again (and this movie repeatedly references contacts between humans and Predators in 1987 and 1997, acknowledging Predator and Predator 2 on this timeline). Seasoned Army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) happens to be stationed near where the alien lands, and he watches the beats murder his entire crew. Meanwhile, a shadow branch of the government (personified by Sterling K. Brown) tracks the movements of the newly-arrived Predator, recruiting a scientist (Olivia Munn) who specializes in alien life forms. With the Predator on the hunt, McKenna and a band of crazy ex-soldiers (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Augusto Aguilera and Alfie Allen) commit to stopping the alien threat... especially because the creature has targeted McKenna's son (Jacob Tremblay) for reasons I don't want to spoil here.
Will The Predator contend for the Popular Oscar at the Academy Awards? Well, no, because the Academy wisely backpedaled on that hasty decision. But even if the category remained, The Predator isn't that type of film. As Black told us, it's a movie, which implies a certain amount of brain-numbing, preferably with a large tub of popcorn in your lap as you cheer on grisly kills and one-liners that cut to the bone. However, even when embracing its place in the pulp corner of horror cinema, The Predator often surprises by being funnier and clever than a dismissive patron might expect. There's a killer Haunted Mansion joke -- yes, the Disney theme park ride -- that I'm still laughing about. Keegan-Michael Key is consistently hilarious in this movie, and Thomas Jane makes the most of playing a foul-mouthed assassin with Tourette's. Even the addition of sinister Predator dogs works because of some decisions the script chooses to make with them. In that sense, The Predator is even more of a Fred Dekker movie than a Shane Black movie (but if you love Dekker's movies, from The Monster Squad to Night of the Creeps, you know this is a compliment).
The Predator can't sustain all of its goofy charms, and the ending collapses into the usual, tired chaotic mess of action. And, as you could have predicted, there's a tasty tease for where a story could go, should enough people decide that they prefer this type of Predator movie to the ridiculous AvP mashups that were foisted on us. I'm not saying I need to see a lot more of these movies. But with subversive artists like Black and Dekker at the helm, I'm celebrating the fact that this one exists.