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To catch ‘The Predator’

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When Hollywood isn’t rebooting or remaking, it’s sequel-izing – even if the previous entry is years or even decades in the past. The successful efforts are fairly few and far between, but the wave of IP filmmaking doesn’t appear to have crested yet.

And so we get another “Predator” movie.

“The Predator” is the fourth standalone film in the franchise, following “Predator” (1987), “Predator 2” (1990) and “Predators” (2010) – please note that we’re not including the two crossover films with the “Alien” universe. Shane Black – who is not only one of the best action screenwriters of the past 25 years and a heck of a director, but actually played a small part in “Predator” back in 1987 – is the ideal man to bring this franchise back, someone with a clear affection for and understanding of the source material. Black directs from a script he co-wrote with Fred Dekker.

Set in the present day, it’s the story of a soldier whose chance encounter with an alien in the jungle leads to a fight to save himself and everyone he cares about from a gruesome (and I do mean GRUESOME) death. It is packed with gags and gore, a throwback sort of action movie that feels like it would fit right into the heyday of the original. It’s a flawed film, to be sure, but action fans will have a hell of a time.

Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, “Logan”) is a soldier, a Special Forces type and elite sniper who is working on some hush-hush black ops stuff. When a spaceship crashes into the jungle nearby, McKenna quickly finds himself in the crosshairs of an enemy he can’t understand or even see. His team members get dispatched in bloody fashion and he barely escapes.

(Spoiler alert: It’s a Predator.)

Turns out that there’s a whole government operation revolving around Predators since the events of 1987 (“Predator”) and 1997 (“Predator 2”), led by the enigmatic Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, “Hotel Artemis”), a manic Tums-popping bureaucrat with a dark side. Traeger enlists the help of evolutionary biologist Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn, TV’s “Six”) to learn more about the Predators – specifically, the one that they’ve captured.

Obviously, it’s never a good idea to bring a Predator into your house and it all turns out about how you’d expect, with the Predator breaking out and pursuing its own agenda.

Meanwhile, McKenna gets committed; he winds up on a bus heading for the psych ward. His fellow passengers – jokey Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key, TV’s “Friends from College”), Tourette’s sufferer Baxley (Thomas Jane, “A.X.L.”) and detached leader-type Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes, “12 Strong”), along with the religious one (Augusto Aguilera, TV’s “Too Old to Die Young”) and the English one (Alfie Allen, TV’s “Game of Thrones”) – wind up wrapped up in the fight as well.

See, McKenna sent his proof to the home of his estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski, TV’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”) and his genius son Rory (Jacob Tremblay, “Wonder”), who was smart enough to figure out how the alien’s tech worked, which in turn leads not just the first Predator to them, but also those who might be predator-ing THAT Predator.

Along the way, a multitude of nameless soldiers and scientists and whatnot come to sudden and brutal ends. There’s a whole lot of blood and viscera. McKenna and company team up with Brackett and Rory in an effort to, well … survive.

Look, you’re not walking into “The Predator” in search of some sort of sophisticated narrative. What you want is human-on-alien violence executed often and with quippy humor. Shane Black knows this and happily lays it on you. The bloodshed is constant and the body count extremely high. There are sight gags built around gruesome deaths. There are jokes and fights and giant alien dogs.

It is, as you have no doubt already surmised, glorious.

(Note: It should be noted that I am an ‘80s action movie enthusiast and hence carry a deep and abiding affection for the original “Predator.” I was both primed for and apprehensive of this film for that reason. The former was the more accurate response.)

The action sequences are solid – extremely busy and the right kind of chaotic. The creature effects work well for me; there’s an ever-so-slight veneer of cheesiness to them that I found engaging and endearing.

As for the ensemble, it’s a pretty good one. Holbrook isn’t necessarily the most magnetic screen presence, but he’s fine for what the film asks of him. Munn exudes a devil-may-care vibe that works even when it doesn’t necessarily fit. I’d be happy to see Key play a supporting role in every action movie I ever see. Jane is twitchy. Allen has an accent.

Honestly, the two best performances of the movie are given by Brown, who is weird and giggly and making all kinds of oddball choices that make him memorable, and Tremblay, who’s in the current “best actor under the age of 15” conversation. Brown’s clearly having fun, yet for all his strangeness, he’s menacing. And the kid is just always good; this movie is no exception.

“The Predator” is precisely the movie I (and others of a certain age) want it to be. It is reminiscent of the original, taking great pleasure in finding ways large and small to tie the story to previous installments, while still marking its own path. It’s a film that unequivocally embraces what it is – for (mostly) better and (occasionally) worse.

[4 out of 5]

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