“Predators” Preys on its Viewers

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

There is something awful yet probably necessary about a female praying mantis eating its mate. Just as horrible but bereft of any biological or social rationale is director Nimród Antal’s “Predators.” Both ugly facts of life, I hold each in the same esteem. Happily, I can warn you about it. Sadly, I doubt one male praying mantis will read this review.

Certainly there are worse fates than seeing this tedious action flick about a group of elite mercenaries who finds itself the prey of an apparently more resolute race of hunters on another planet. For example, you could be a gentleman praying mantis allowed to see just one film before his next romantic encounter, and that movie is “Predators.”

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This is dark, dreary stuff. It makes you wish there were a social program to dissuade filmmakers from making such tommyrot. If we can discourage a farmer from growing a certain crop in order to maneuver the economy, surely we can cultivate the arts in the name of good taste and sanity.

Of course some may rightfully argue that we already have something in place called the free market. Which works well enough in principal. The theory is that folks simply won’t pay for such toxic diversion, and thus its purveyors won’t have a financial incentive. The scary thing is, look around you. Ever notice what some people call entertainment?

About the only thing worse than the insulting assortment of diversions being marketed these days would be to censor them. Hence, we have an enigma that falls under the umbrella of what Jefferson referred to as the tyranny of Democracy. If you want freedom, you have to put up with the ancillary garbage that also thrives in its environment.

That’s the saving grace, perhaps the only good thing about the million dollar blockbusters regularly proving H.L. Mencken’s maxim, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of Americans.” Lousy and demeaning as they are, whether shown in city or mountain hollow, they are flickering monuments to our liberty.

They are our boisterous, sprocket-riding graffiti, raucously declaring our right to feed at the trough of lowest cultural denominator, if we so wish. Still, even with that egalitarian rationalization in place, traipsing through the mental muck and mire of this lowly offering is icky. The nonstop ill will and tastelessness in “Predators” is wearing.

Defenders of the phylum will chide that one needn’t be so serious about what he allows to enter his brain. Every civilization has had its version of the dime novel, only now the sensationalist tales of derring-do cost you about $9.50 a pop. What they fail to mention is how the nature of the protagonists has distorted, from hero, to anti-hero to cynic.

This puts us in a quandary. Once upon a time we wanted truth in our fiction, a glorious validation of our values. But if art is a mirror, then this type of film now tattles on the inherent nihilism of our vicarious appetite. Increasing desensitization finds acceptable the near scurrilous lead who fights fire with fire. It’s our reprobates against theirs.

Waggishly sarcastic, Adrien Brody’s war lover who soon takes command of his fellow humans features himself the ultimate survivor. His reply to any ethical inquiry is simply, “I’m alive.” Not that the other killers care. That is, except for pretty Alice Braga’s Isabelle, an Israeli sniper with a guilty conscience and ostensibly the film’s moral center.

Gosh knows it needs one. Aside from the old standard’s escalation of evil and violence, the premise is unchanged. Think “The Dirty Dozen” (1967) with only a trace of their redeeming values. You have to laugh at the all-star lineup of rogues, one worse than the next. Because there’s bad in all kinds, there’s a warrior representing every ethnic group.

Joining Adrien Brody’s Royce, a persuasively styled soldier of fortune who waxes poetic about his profession, are, Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), of the Russian Special Forces; Chucillo (Danny Trejo), a Mexican drug cartel enforcer; Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Yakuza assassin; and Topher Grace’s Edwin, inexplicably an M.D.

Doc’s connection to the motley crew comprises the sub-plot you have to guess. Less challenging is the usual quiz intrinsic to such pictures: In what order will they die, and will anyone live to tell the tale? It’s rather obvious. Though in all fairness, we are thrown a curve when Laurence Fishburne’s Noland enters stage right.

Hiding out on the planet for the past ten “seasons,” he confirms what Royce has surmised. Suffice it to note the title characters have made a deadly game of Darwinism. All of which is an excuse for grimly confusing doings, inundating special effects and lots of bad behavior. Naturally, the fittest, most evolved filmgoers will deselect “Predators.”

“Predators,” rated R, is a 20th Century Fox Film Corporation release directed by Nimród Antal and stars Adrien Brody, Alice Braga and Topher Grace. Running time: 106 minutes


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