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Movie Review : Schwarzenegger Vs. Alien In 'Predator'

June 12, 1987|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

The movie is "Predator" (citywide). The style is minimalist Xerox macho . The effect is mind-mashing.

In a nameless Latin American country we find a military rescue unit, faces scowling and sweating, hacking their way through a jungle rotten with snakes, vultures, beautiful guerrillas and skinned corpses.

Their leader: Dutch Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a killing machine with a heart--so moral he refused to join the Libyan attack, so mischievous that he cracks, while stabbing a foe, "Stick around!" His buddy: Dillon of the CIA (Carl Weathers), who for some weird reason has to trick this squad into combat duty.

The squad: a stalwart Indian tracker, an excitable Latino, a grief-crazed black, a wrestler with a Gatling gun and a bespectacled nerd. The rebel: a gorgeous kidnaped Latino guerrilla. The villain stalking them all: An evil E.T., who looks like a robot with dreadlocks and the face of an enraged sea anemone, and hunts them with heat-sensing vision while dripping green goo all over the leaves.

The antecedents: "The Lost Patrol," "Alien," "Attack of the Crab Monsters" and a hundred other last-stand and alien invasion movies over the last 40 years--all of them better written than this.

"Predator" is an ominous high-tech Stone-Age mixture--ominous because the production is high tech and the script, and its values and mentality, are Stone Age. It's in the bare-bones action-adventure mode that producers Joel Silver and Lawrence Gordon used in "The Warriors" and "The Driver," chic action-fables where nothing impedes the streamlined flow--neither logic, originality nor a single naturalistic moment. Sometimes the form works, but in "Predator," they've hit nada. There's a difference between Walter Hill's minimalism and vacuity--which is what we get from Jim and John Thomas' screenplay. It's arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie. There's no need to do a Mad magazine movie parody of this; it's already on the screen.

Could the script have been messed up in production? How? All the action is bogus, all the dialogue monosyllabic cliche. If the producers or director John McTiernan threw out or changed some of it, it's a pity they didn't throw out more. In the last half-hour, when hardly anybody talks, there's a marked improvement.

Schwarzenegger--whose role here almost directly reverses "The Terminator"--looks as if he's trapped in a terminal glower, or wants to beat somebody with his chin. Carl Weathers has almost nothing reasonable to react to except for the moment when somebody spits on his boot. The only thing that distinguishes Sonny Landham's Billy--as written--from Tonto in "The Lone Ranger" is that Billy never says, "Mmmm, kemo sabe."

Screenwriter-turned-actor Shane Black ("Lethal Weapon") is handed a part that consists of spectacles and two extremely bad porno movie jokes; maybe he'll sympathize with actors from now on. Elpidia Carrillo's Anna seems to come from the Calvin Klein school of revolutionaries. Predator 7-foot-2 Kevin Peter Hall is seen to happier advantage as the Hendersons' "Harry." Only Bill Duke, who's given 35 minutes to go crazy, is able to come up with a character--an acting feat comparable to bringing down the house with the phone book.

The best things in "Predator" (MPAA rated: R, for violence and language) are Duke, Don McAlpine's cinematography and Alan Silvestri's music. Still, despite the awful scenario, it's done at times with heavy technological flash and style. Your attention is gripped, even while you're bombarded with inanity. Like many directors schooled in TV commercials, McTiernan has an arresting visual flair and he creates a mood here out of almost nothing: crawling belly-level tracking shots, heroic or statuesque angles, a bleak approach to violence, picturesque deep foliage landscapes streaked with weird harsh light. The whole movie often jells on an almost abstract level, unrelated to its own story. And, considering the story, that's probably the only way it could work.

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