Thursday, September 8, 2016

PREDATOR (1987) - ***½

Rated R
Running time: 107 min.
Release date: June 12, 1987

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a larger than life performer who usually ends up playing larger than life characters on-screen. In Predator, he plays the leader of an elite group of commandos on a mission in the jungles of Central America that will soon get ambushed by an unseen force. Once that invisible force is revealed, we get a one-on-one fight to the death for the ages. Director John McTiernan frames the film around Schwarzenegger and the antagonist, with the final inevitable confrontation providing the exact conclusion that this film needs. 

Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his team arrive on the scene, tasked with rescuing an official from the clutches of a group of Central American guerillas. Dutch meets up with an old friend, Dillon (Carl Weathers), who informs Dutch that he will be accompanying and supervising the group on their mission, much to the chagrin of Dutch, who feels his team works better on their own terms. Next thing we know, we're in the jungle. The group finds a helicopter wreckage and then several corpses that have been skinned. This grisly discovery has Dutch and his team wondering exactly what Dillon and the CIA have gotten them into. This is all pushed aside for the moment, as the team comes upon a guerilla camp, where they proceed to just completely annihilate every single member. In the aftermath, Dutch discovers that Dillon lied and covered up the true operation: gathering intelligence from captured operatives. The helicopter wreckage and skinned corpses found earlier were a team sent in weeks prior that just disappeared. The team gather the lone female survivor prisoner and head back into the jungle to catch up to the rescue chopper.

But wait a minute! All that nonsense was just a subplot for the meat of the picture. On their way back through the jungle, they are ambushed, one by one, by someone, or something, that they cannot see. Hawkins (Shane Black), Blaine (Jesse Ventura), Mac (Bill Duke), Billy (Sonny Landham) and Poncho (Richard Chaves) are killed. Even Dillon falls to the invisible stalker, losing an arm in the process. Dutch is wounded and screams at the female prisoner, Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), to get to the chopper. So with his team all dead, Dutch does the only thing left that he can do: make a stand. The final third of the film is an over-the-top mano a mano between Dutch and the stalker, who turns out to be an alien headhunter, looking for skull trophies. 

Dutch accidentally discovers that mud masks the alien's ability to identify his presence, as the alien utilizes thermal tracking vision. So Dutch covers himself in mud and builds various booby-traps in order to lure the alien to his doom. But in order to get the alien's attention, we need to have Dutch hang out in the trees, light a torch and give his best battle cry. I don't need to explain to you, the reader, how gloriously cheesy this all is. It's dumb, yes, but Arnold Schwarzenegger's natural charisma helps gets this over. He needs to get to the rescue chopper, which won't wait forever (we are told), but he takes a half-day or so to build his booby-traps, apply his mud war paint, and call out the alien bastard. 

The beginning of the plot, with the rescue mission and the government deception, are paper thin and only necessary to get the team into the jungle in the first place. The distrust of Dillon was not really necessary as Dillon met the same fate as all the others anyway. Once the jungle stalking begins, we have the makings of a very good action film. A lot of macho posturing by the various team members along with the graphic violence make for an entertaining story that never stops to lull us to sleep. The alien predator was designed by make-up effects guru Stan Winston, a very intimidating-looking creature that is played by the late Kevin Peter Hall, who also played "Harry" in Harry and the Hendersons. The special effects throughout the film, including the invisibility effects and the thermal vision of the alien, are all very well done. The jungle location is very suffocating and only adds to the paranoia a few members of the team feel while being stalked.

The characterizations are only limited to "the guy with the glasses", or "the spiritual tracker dude" or "the gung ho pro wrestler". The plot is thin to begin with and then becomes a survival movie in the jungle. However, that doesn't make it all less entertaining. Indeed, the movie does what it sets out to do: provide an hour and forty-five minutes of slam-bang action in a jungle setting. The final showdown between Dutch and the alien, although silly in some respects, nonetheless is very well done and leaves you cheering. Even the alien himself is so impressed with Dutch's knowledge of jungle warfare that he puts his weapons down and challenges him to a plain old-fashioned fistfight. Predator is a muscle-bound action film from beginning to end and should entertain even the most discerning viewer.

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