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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Well, that does it: After decades of trying, it’s become evident that nobody knows how to make a decent Predator sequel.

It’s not like the first film was a masterpiece. It was a goofy adventure pic featuring a superstar on the rise—who has been mysteriously absent from the sequels. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in fact, turned down a cameo in the new The Predator, a movie that simply needed to be just OK to keep pace with the 1987 original. Well, it’s not.

The Predator—technically the fourth Predator film (not including those Alien vs. Predator movies, which should be washed away from our collective memories)—had elements that were worthy of excitement. Shane Black, who actually played the first character to get killed in this franchise 31 years ago, is its director. This is the man responsible for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys and Iron Man 3. That Iron Man 3 credit is the main reason to think Black would be a good pick to lead a beloved genre favorite back to greatness.

Nope. In fact, The Predator actually represents a step backward from the extremely mediocre Predators (2010), the prior installment that squandered a decent idea with a cheap-looking film. The Predator is a lumbering stink bomb through and through.

Boyd Holbrook heads a low-rate ensemble cast as Quinn McKenna, a special-ops guy in the middle of an assassination attempt—interrupted when a spaceship crashes nearby and spoils his fun. After a confrontation with the dreadlocked, reptilian-faced alien pilot, McKenna scoops up some evidence (a Predator arm gun, a Predator helmet) and sends them to his P.O. box back home so he has proof when the upper-level folks label him a whacko.

Because he didn’t pay the bill on that P.O. box, the nasty package is forwarded to his home and into the hands of his young, autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Naturally, the boy thinks it’s some kind of video game from his pop (and a Halloween mask!). He dicks around with the intergalactic toys and gets himself involved in an interplanetary war. If ever there were a film that declared the dangerous perils of video-game addiction, it would be this one.

Here's something that really bothered me: In an establishing scene, Rory displays a major sensitivity to sound. He actually crumples to the ground at the mild sound of an alarm, which makes him the taunting target of elementary-school meanies. Yet when Rory is involved in alien battles later in the film, with bombs and guns going off next to his head, he seems perfectly fine. Did he put in some ear plugs? Is his sound sensitivity specific to classroom settings? Is the screenplay for this movie a colossal mess? I’m going with the latter.

McKenna winds up with other misfit soldiers on a bus, including one played by Thomas Jane, trying to provide comic relief as a silly soldier with Tourette syndrome. Others jockeying for screen time include Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera. Olivia Munn, the best thing about the movie, is also on hand as a wily scientist, as is Sterling K. Brown, as the maybe-he’s-bad-but-maybe-he’s-not guy.

They all run around in a haphazard, cheap-looking CGI shitstorm that turns up the gore factor to go with the inane dialogue, numerous plot holes and stupid-looking alien dogs. More than once, characters disappeared, and I wasn’t sure of their fate—a sign of bad editing.

There was a lot of confusion during production (including reshoots for a woefully tacked-on ending), and the movie looks like it was being shot as a potential 3-D offering. There is no 3-D, which is good news, because this movie is not worth the extra few bucks for 3-D admission. In fact, it’s not worth any of your money. It’s predatory garbage.

The Predator is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The latest Keanu Reeves vehicle is a stunner. John Wick boasts a high body count—and offers cinematic proof that you shouldn’t mess with a man’s best friend.

In the film’s opening moments, we learn that the title character (played by Reeves) has lost his wife, and he’s taking it understandably hard. Shortly after her death, a little pet carrier arrives at his door with an adorable beagle inside: His wife has given him a gift of companionship from the beyond, and it’s a very sweet moment. The scenes of Wick and the dog bonding help make him a likable character.

While John Wick is putting some gas in his sweet Mustang, a young Russian man (Alfie Allen) asks if he can buy the car. Wick groans that it is not for sale. His unwillingness to part with the car results in tragedy, as the Russian mob comes to his house, beats him to within inches of death, kills the dog and takes the car.

They’ve messed with the wrong guy. Wick is a former hired assassin with a bunch of weaponry and gold buried in his floor. We learn that Wick is known around town as the Boogeyman, and the asshole who stole his car has a father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), who once employed Wick. Viggo lived in confidence that Wick was retired and out of the game. Now, his son has killed the Boogeyman’s dog, and all involved, voluntarily or not, are going to face his wrath.

That wrath consists of some of the greatest choreographed carnage in recent movie memory. Wick shoots bad guys with a precision that protects the innocent—but anybody around with a criminal background is going to die.

A couple of stunt guys—David Leitch and Chad Stahelski—make their directorial debuts with John Wick. Stahelski has actually been a Reeves stunt double many times, in the Matrix films, Constantine and Point Break. Their familiarity pays off, because the stunt sequences and choreography are flawless. In the pantheon of action-movie directing debuts, this one stands tall.

Reeves is an actor who has taken a lot of shots over the years. True, he can be pretty darned terrible at times, but he has a strong command of himself in front of a camera. There’s a scene in this movie that may contain the best acting of his career. Wick is a character who doesn’t exactly wear his emotions on his sleeve. He’s a simmering sort, but once pushed to a certain level, he shows some mighty powerful rage. Reeves is very much up to the task.

It’s also very clear that Reeves does much of his own stunt work in the film. There’s a lot of rolling around, and numerous gun dances. He’s always been a capable action star, and his physical outing here is as impressive as his work in The Matrix series. (OK, the first one. Screw the sequels.)

The screenplay adds some nice touches, including an exclusive hotel for assassins run by Ian McShane. The place is like an artists’ loft, except the inhabitants paint with blood and brains. When Wick gets his stay violently interrupted, the calm calls from the front desk and visuals of criminals sleepily sticking their heads out their doors to see what’s going on are quite funny.

Willem Dafoe makes a nice mark in a few scenes as a double-crossing hitman. Adrianne Palicki, the actress who was supposed to be TV’s Wonder Woman (until NBC saw the pilot and puked), shows action-movie chops as another gun-for-hire who can’t be trusted.

John Wick is a great-looking movie that mixes in some strong emotions with awesome set pieces. It’s nice to see Keanu Reeves back in the saddle. Now, with the success of this film, perhaps somebody will finally green-light Bill and Ted 3.

John Wick is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews