January 12, 2011
Schwarzenegger, Weathers, Predator

As surprises go, Predator isn’t much. But the new Arnold Schwarzenegger film is still an unexpectedly gripping action movie, with no slack moments and few neat twists up its gore-splattered sleeves.

It begins with one of those American special-forces units dropping into one of those unnamed Central American countries to perform a routine bit of covert rescue work. We’ve certainly seen plenty of that lately, onscreen and elsewhere. They’re a bunch of muscle-bound dudes who, when wounded, say things like, “I ain’t got time to bleed.” But Schwarzenegger and his crack team run into a new sort of enemy during their jungle mission.

Somewhere out there in the trees is a thing that grabs his men and strips them of their flesh, then hangs them out like trophies on display. (This is not a movie for the squeamish.) Big Arnie and his men race through the forest to meet their helicopter pick-up, but this thing is silent, impervious to pain—and it wants to play a most dangerous game.

Predator is basically Alien in the jungle, broken down into a series of stalking scenes until Schwarzenegger and the thing can go at it: Two otherworldly mounds of beef slugging it out in the primordial ooze.

Under John McTiernan’s well-paced direction, this actually becomes an effective chase movie. There’s some great jungle photography by the talented Don McAlpine, who wrings all the green sweaty paranoia out of the setting; almost the entire film takes place within the choking vines and trees.

Schwarzenegger indulges his penchant for James Bond-style wisecracks, which he squeezes out through the thick molasses of his accent. He implores an enemy soldier impaled on a knife to “Stick around,” and when he finally gazes upon the face of the predator, he marvels, “You’re one ugly (insert 12-letter expletive).” The audience goes nuts at that one.

Good monster. At first, through some special-effects wizardry, we glimpse only a shimmering shape that seems to assume the look of the forest around it. Later the beast makes itself seen, in an outrageous design that features synthetic dreadlocks and a praying-mantis face. Inside the costume is the tall actor Kevin Peter Hall, who also plays the sasquatch in Harry and the Hendersons. I wonder if we’ll ever get to see him?

Predator isn’t much of anything, but it has a punchy, ground-level force to it and a suspense ratio that holds up. There are bad action movies and good action movies, and this is one of the good ones.

First published in the Herald, June 1987

It is one of the good ones. I guess I could’ve named some of the other actors in the movie, but apparently I was very taken with Don McAlpine’s cinematography, so sorry, Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers et al. The reference to Central American adventures “onscreen and elsewhere” reminds one of how so many of the action pictures of the Eighties were in tune with the national mood during the Reagan years. It is becoming clear, seeing these reviews in a row, how constantly I bemoaned the puns and the accent. There’s more of that to come.