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Two Movie reviews: Predators & the A-Team
Two movie reviews
PREDATORS *** (3 Stars out of 5)
PREDATORS: The Predators don’t need no stinkin’ aliens! In fact, the Alien vs. Predator cross-overs have been dragging our predatory protagonists down. The Predators are a lot more fun on their own. Happily, the latest installment in the Predator series makes no mention of their frequent acid-blooded opponents. This new entry, directed by Nimrod Antal (Kontroll,Vacancy, Armored) and produced by Robert Rodriquez (From Dust Till Dawn, Sin City, Grindhouse) is a direct sequel to the 1987 original, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura. And it’s probably the best installment in the franchise since then.
The film, written by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch from a plot by Rodriquez, flips the premise of the first movie. Instead of them coming here to hunt us, they bring us to them so they can stalk us on their home turf. The Predators are back in the jungle, as we first saw them 23 years. But this isn’t the same South American jungle where they battled Arnold. It’s an extraterrestrial game preserve where the Predators deposit specially chosen prey who they hope will prove a challenge. It’s like The Most Dangerous Game, except that the hunters are from outer space.
In this case, the prey are some of the most formidable killers on Earth. In fact, the title Predators refers as much to the displaced humans as it does to the predatory monsters. The alpha male and nominal leader of the humans is the bitter, gruff-voiced soldier of fortune Royce (Adrien Brody, who has reinvented himself as an action hero), who makes all the requisite deductions which serve as exposition for the audience. Royce doesn’t want to be the leader of the pack, but regardless of his efforts to avoid the responsibility, circumstances force him into a reluctant position of field Captain for the gang who can shoot well.
Along with Royce, we have Israeli commando Isabelle (Alice Braga); Russian spetsnaz combat operative Nikoli (Oleg Taktarov); serial killer Stans (Walton Goggins); Japanese Yakuza hitman Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien); Cuchillo (Danny Trejo) of the Mexican drug cartels; and from Africa, we have soldier/hunter Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali). Rounding out the mismatched but very deadly octet is Dr. Edwin (Topher Grace), a panicky physician who seems very out of place among the world’s deadliest warriors.
The action starts immediately, as the film begins with our human heroes literally falling from the sky. One minute they are on Earth and the next thing they know, they are plummeting toward a sudden stop, with only an alien parachute to stop their freefall, if they can just figure out how to open it before they abruptly meet the ground. One of the abducted earthmen fails this particular test and ends up a splotch on the alien terrain. The rest reluctantly join forces. They soon find a bunch of empty cages which indicate that something else has recently been released onto the game preserve aside from themselves. Not long after that, they are attacked by a pack of large, spiked beasts looking for lunch. Sadly for the humans, these creatures are not the scariest things on the planet.
The Predators arrive halfway through the film. This time around, we get two different species of Predators engaged in clan wars. We have the return of the classic 1987 Predator, plus a trio of new, larger cousins; Tracker, Falconer and Berserker. We’re told the updated Predators are “like wolves are to dogs”. Fans of the classic Predator may not like how the old school clan gets manhandled here.
Laurence Fishburne pops up as Noland; a ragged, crazed survivor of a previous hunt, who’s been hiding from the Predators for 10 years. Fishburne gives a somewhat comical performance, meant to parody Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. He serves mostly as a form of exposition to explain the details of the Predator clan war. Exposition is squeezed in however the writers can think to insert it. For those unfamiliar with the original film, Isabelle conveniently knows the details of the 1987 adventure and obligingly recaps the story for any newbies.
One problem with the film is that the audience is always way ahead of the characters. The stranded warriors spend most of the film trying to discover the why and where of their current dilemma. The viewer knows from the beginning who brought them there and why. There are also subtle hints in the script that the humans were brought to PredatorPark due to some karmic justice, due to their lives of violence and death.
The new Predators are impressively large but they seem to lack the formidable speed and strategy of the lone ’87 Predator, and are easier to kill. It’s a recurring cinematic rule that the more monsters you have in a film, they easier they are to defeat. The titular creature in Alien terrorized the ships crew alone, whereas in the sequels, Aliens were picked off by the dozen and made up for their lack of formidability in numbers. The same rule applies for the Predators.
The plot is serviceable, giving viewers exactly what they expect. The performances are adequate. The newly buffed Brody, whose career has taken an unexpected trajectory since his Oscar winning turn in The Pianist, lends credibility to the proceedings. His throaty delivery sounds like Christian Bale in Dark Knight. Topher Grace adds some humor as the odd-man-out with a secret Edwin. (A misfired attempt at humor comes when Stans jokes about how he’s missing Earth because there are no women to rape on Predator Planet)
Predators is full of action and there are some suspenseful moments. The Seven Samurai styled grouping of warriors, combine with the return to the jungle setting, makes the film very reminiscent of the original, with Brody as a worthy successor to the Governator.
THE A-TEAM*** (3 Stars out of 5)
THE A-TEAM: “There are times when overkill is under-rated”, says one of the film’s main characters. That seems to be the philosophy of director Joe Carnahan, who spares no stunt or explosion. This won’t win any awards but if you’re in the mood for two hours of non-stop action, you’ll get your money’s worth with The A-Team.
Based on the hugely popular 1980s TV series starring George Peppard and Mr. T, the film amps up the action quotient to the nth degree and provides the viewer with a frenetic series of slam-bang chase and fight sequences. The scenes range from amusingly silly to absolutely ridiculous (such as when the A-Team bails out of an exploding airplane in a tank with a parachute attached to it and battle attacking fighters on the way down) and no one gets seriously hurt. The bloodless violence was one of the hallmarks of the original TV series, as well.
The first two thirds of the film are the best. It starts with individual introductions to our titular quartet. Col. John “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson) is a military strategist who “specializes in the ridiculous”. Lt. “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper, who’s the real focus of the film) is a suave rogue who can charm any woman and has the ability to procure contraband of any type, even while in prison. Corporal Bosco “B.A.” Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) is the muscular wheelman of the group. Capt. H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock (Played by a scene stealing Sharlto Copley)is the team’s mad-as-a-hatter ace pilot. They are all Army Rangers. We see how they got together eight years earlier in Mexico, when Hannibal and Face are on a mission and run into the discharged B.A. and the committed (in a mental institution) Murdock.
After their initial adventure, we cut to eight years later, during a troop pull-out from Iraq, when the A-Team has racked up 85 successful covert operations and has developed a reputation for being the best of the best. However, the team is recruited for one final mission by shady CIA operative Lynch (Patrick Wilson) who wants our heroes to retrieve stolen printing plates from Iraqi dissidents before they can print money to fund the enemy army. Hannibal accepts the covert black-op and only two people—Lynch and General Morrison (Gerald McRaney)—know that the team is working under orders. The team succeeds, but unfortunately for the formidable foursome, the General is killed and Lynch has vanished into the ether. The A-Team is court-martialed for the thefts and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Of course, you can’t keep four good men down and the team soon escapes, determined to find out why they were set up and to clear their names.
From this point on, the film never stops for a breath. The team travels the world seeking justice and battling the bad guys. All the while, they are pursued by a team of DOD agents, let by Lt. Sosa (Jessica Biel, the only major female character in the film), an old flame of Face, who has some very personal motivations in capturing the fugitive foursome.
There isn’t much else in the way of plot, but the underlying subtext of the film is about Face’s journey from a reckless young man into a leader. At the beginning of the film, Face is chastised by Hannibal for his impetuous actions which almost get them all killed. The paradigm begins to shift as the story develops and Face’s independent actions begin to pay-off for the team, despite Hannibal’s orders to the contrary. Face begins to question the wisdom of his leader (“Why didn’t you see this coming?” Face asks accusingly, when things start to go south for the team) and he finally decides to step up. Eventually, Hannibal surrenders leadership of the team to Face, who mastermind’s the final confrontation with the bad guys. Face even gets to use Hannibal’s trademark phrase “I love it when a plan comes together!”
The A-Team has lots of little treats for fans of the old show. B.A. has the words “Pity” and “fool” tattooed on his hands; the black van; B.A.’s fear of flying, necessitating that his partners sedate him to get him on a plan. The only thing missing is Hannibal’s penchant for using disguises. Quinton Jackson portrays a kindlier version of B.A., lacking the growling hostility that made Mt.T so popular. Copley steals almost every scene he’s in with his over-the-top performance. Neeson, who has reinvented himself as an action hero in recent years, is authoritative as Hannibal but he lacks the playfulness and humor that Peppard brought to the role. Cooper’s Faceman Peck is the pivotal character of the film. The final third of the film focuses so much on him that it reduces the presence of the others in the last act, which is to the detriment of the overall film.
Basically, the A-team is simple fun, replacing plot with pyrotechnics. Fans of the old show may or may not like this adrenaline filled interpretation of an old favorite, but they’ll still get a few nostalgic smiles, especially when Copley is on screen.