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Shane Black proves a semi-charmed remedy for the wavering outer space slasher franchise in The Predator, ushering in a new era of the horror-tinged sci-fi action with gutsy enthusiasm and immature brio. A neck-break pace and trademark jet Black humor define this goofy, giddy motion picture about blood-thirsty invaders from outer space come to an American small town right out of a John Mellencamp song. The fourth (or sixth if you count the dreadful Alien cross-over events) installment in the Rastafarian space slayer series manages no shortage of missteps – waddling into the three-pronged crosshair of some hot topic controversy along the way – but comes out the other side as a buoyant, bloody joyride of cinematic ridiculousness that revels in its throwback homaging of the excesses of the 1980s.

Complete with Black’s meta running commentary, The Predator doesn’t always work (jokes fall flat; the dialogue can be beyond hammy; logic runs secondary to mounting set pieces) but it all moves so swiftly from one beat to the next that the sour notes are left behind like predator’s prey, in a dilapidated pile of fleshy waste. This isn’t a construction of great thought or imagination. There is no elevated reinvention of the wheel going here. Some might have expected Black to take The Predator in a smarter, more avant-garde direction and that just isn’t the case. The franchise hasn’t evolved into some brainy political metaphor – it’s doubled down on its shmucky murderfest instincts. It’s action movie as muscle memory. Black does what many a screenwriter tells their understudies – he takes the familiar and tweaks it for his own pleasure. He makes exactly the movie he wants to see; churning into the Predator formula a good helping of batty characters, buckets of blood and accompanying guts, and enough gallows humor to keep the thing buzzing on dark fuel. What The Predator lacks in narrative sparkle, it more than makes up for in energetic pizzaz and go-for-broke brawn.    Black blows up the action movie stereotypes of yore with a Cheshire Cat grin. The iconic ragtag team is more ragtag than ever. The kills are gory and brutal and damn good for a laugh. The innuendo is crass and infantile and shameless. And, this being Shane Black, there is a precocious movie kid (Jacob Tremblay, with autism spectrum disorder) who, as it so happens, threatens to be the most precocious movie kid. The Predator is Shane Black through and through; a good/bad submission to all of the director’s baser instincts. Falling markedly short of the clever heights of The Nice Guys and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Predator still feels like an artist letting loose, reveling in his private little B-movie sandbox and having a hell of a time in the process.

Plot rides secondary to spectacle and character interplay, though the script from Black and co-writer Fred Dekker invests no short change in exposition. But it all basically boils down to: Predators invade Earth, man must stop them. Black and Dekker try to gussy it up with shadowy conspiracies and interplanetary scheming but it really is as simple as that. Predator comes, man must kill. It’s the makeup of the nuts and bolts that give The Predator its roguish character. Boyd Holbrook plays Quinn McKenna, a weathered sniper and estranged family man who has a close brush with the invading extraterrestrial. McKenna must protect his son (Tremblay) who is unknowingly in possession of alien tech while evading a shadowy government organization intent on silencing him for good. Oh and he also has to kill an 11-foot super-predator. Along the way, he teams up with a literal loony bin, aligning with an assortment of the military’s discarded goods to save Earf.

In the loonies alone, there’s a whole lot of characters to keep track of; Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes steals scenes as hard-smoking Nebraska, a loyal second-in-command for McKenna; Keegan-Michael Key (the Key half of “Key and Peele”) is Coyle, a wise-cracking trigger-happy nut with some nasty “Yo mama” jokes up his sleeve; Thomas Jane, who’s been a long time from the Hollywood spotlight, gobbles the scenery as a hardened killer with Tourette’s Syndrome; Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen is mostly overshadowed as sleight-of-hand dude Lynch while relative newcomer Augusto Aguilera makes an impression as the soft-hearted Nettles. Giggling along with Sterling K. Brown, who is having an absolute blast as a Nicotine-gum smacking bad mother sans scruples, is mandatory for anyone expecting to enjoy themselves at The Predator.

There are moments where you suspect that major logical patches of the movie have been airlifted out. Take, for instance, when Olivia Munn’s Casey Bracket, a biologist specializing in cross-speciation, strips down to her birthday suit so the predator seems to not take notice of her denuded body. She later brings up the strippage but it has no bearing on the logical house of cards The Predator supposes. Rather it’s a cheap ruse to get Munn in her skinnies and show off her shredded clavicles. Seriously, you could fit a carton of milk in those clav-gaps. A later Predator v. Predator showdown reveals the intention of the aliens return to Earth but, taken in the context of everything else that occurs, the whole shebang makes precisely zero-fuggin’-sense. We’re told one thing but shown another entirely. Were this not the entire thrust of why these ultra-violent ETs are here in the first place it might be easier to overlook, but that’s not the case.

As a late-summer blockbuster, The Predator checks most of the boxes one could hope for. It’s big. Check. It’s dumb. Check. It’s fun. Check. And it’s often damn entertaining. Taking full advantage of its R-rating, this is a gaudy time at the movies, best enjoyed with some beers and a time-tested bromance.  Revel in the glorious absurdity of human carcasses torn to bits by towering alien killers, laugh at some expertly staged physical comedy and drown in the muscular machismo of it all while not paying too close attention to its overtly juvenile predilections or Fox skimping on the visual effects budget. Despite all this – or perhaps because of it – The Predator tickled my fancy.

CONCLUSION: ‘The Predator’ is the cinematic equivalent of chugging a case of beer, getting naked, and fighting cars. It’s pointless and ridiculous and at times even painful but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. A flurry of bad taste that should be enjoyed simply as an over-the-top killer alien blockbuster, ‘The Predator’ suffers iffy VFX and a lacking plot but charismatic, crazy characters and enthusiastic direction save the day.

B-

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