In a world of bad action sequels, Judge Dennis Prince wonders who the real "predator" is—the blood-thirsty creature from another world or the Hollywood hacks who shallowly promote this as compelling entertainment.
He's in town…with a few days to kill.
The only thing more terrifying than a race of ruthless hunters from another world is the race of mindless sequel-mongers from that other alien world—Hollywood. While it's often difficult to reach, let alone exceed, the bar set by an initial feature's success, many film franchises have enjoyed terrific success in their second, third, and even subsequent installments (consider The Terminator, Die Hard, and even the original Planet of the Apes). However, just as Tinseltown has shown a deft ability to capture lightning in a bottle time and again, they have just as frequently spoiled a winning recipe with follow-on films that simply fail to recognize what made a picture so successful, often with franchise-killing results (consider Poltergeist, Jaws, and The Exorcist). A high-powered heroic feature in which a larger-than-life action star is pitted against an out-of-this-world space hunter would seem this could be an easy act to follow—but, alas, in the case of the Predator franchise, this multi-feature hopeful should have just stayed dead at the conclusion of the first outing. But it didn't; and we all lose as a result.
Facts of the Case
After movie-going audiences in 1987 were thrilled by a bloody standoff in the jungles of Central America called Predator, someone thought a natural progression for a species that hunts men for sport under extreme conditions would be to drop it into the armpit of urban America—gang territory in Los Angeles. And so, in this "futuristic" thriller that finds embattled police Lt. Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon) trying to get to the bottom of a series of brutal slayings of L.A.'s gang leaders, we witness an all-too-familiar modus operandi: victims suspended and stripped of their flesh, then filleted along the backside to aid the vicious removal of their spines and skulls. The Predator has come to town.
It's 1997 and L.A. has all but gone over to gang warfare, brazen gun battles raging in the sweltering 108-degree daylight. Yet as the Columbian and Jamaican gangs battle over weapons, drugs, and turf, Lt. Harrigan mobilizes his trim staff of officers—Leona (Maria Conchita Alonso) and Danny (Ruben Blades)—to unravel the mystery of the brutal killings that surpass the usual methods of these bloodthirsty gangs. But as he moves closer to gathering clues about these heinous killings, Harrigan is cut off by a brash and equally mysterious government operative, Peter Keyes (Gary Busey). Try as they might, Harrigan and his staff seem to remain one step behind of Keyes; he forces them away as a clandestine covert operation moves in with an unnerving air of acknowledgement and acceptance of the grisly goings-on.
"How many times do I have to tell you—you don't know what you're dealing with."
When it comes to what should have been a relatively easy sequel, we, too, find that in Predator 2 we don't know what we're dealing with, either. It seems to be an affliction that has infected the writers, the director, and almost everyone else involved in this misfire of a sequel. Of course, no sequel is necessarily an easy undertaking; yet with so many recipes for success having already been trotted out before it (I'm thinking of Aliens in this case), it's confounding why Predator 2 missed the mark so badly.
What's wrong with Predator 2? Well, for starters, it's trying to quickly cash in on a first feature that, while it was clearly entertaining and lucrative, wasn't an honest-to-goodness home run hit. Still, it had Arnold, it had a unique new alien, and it had a compelling situation of sorts, as an elite group of normally-unstoppable commandos found itself stranded in a jungle, fighting and dying at the hands of the most relentless killer ever conceived. Therein lies the key success factor for the first film, which the second failed to acknowledge: the characters of the first film, limited though they were, nonetheless engendered a sense of concern on the audience's part, since film-goers honestly hoped the commandos could survive the laser-guided, blade-thrusting onslaught of the Predator. In this second film, we spend too much time with a bunch of gun-toting inner-city mercenaries whom we care little about; we actually cheer on the Predator as he decimates the human sewage flowing across the screen here. And although the writers and director would like to help us connect to Lt. Harrigan and develop some sense of empathy for him, this never comes to pass—Danny Glover's character is so ineffectual that we know deep inside he doesn't really stand a chance against the Predator. (Glover is no Arnold.) This is further confirmed by Harrigan's being so easily thwarted by the overbite-bearing, saliva-spewing Keyes. The whole affair degrades into a typically hackneyed plot of government goons attempting to control what would certainly be an uncontrollable situation; it's something we've seen in too many bad action flicks.
Young director Stephen Hopkins (Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child) is clearly out of his league directing this franchise-deciding feature, and it seems the task was tossed his way without much thought. He never convinces us he has a handle on the situation as his action scenes sprawl out of control, with plenty of gunplay and explosiveness but without any sense of purpose or continuity. And watching Danny Glover and Gary Busey, both generally capable veteran actors, simply schlepping around, hitting their marks but never striking any chord of resonance with us or the plot, only furthers the notion that Hopkins should have been the first one to be gutted by our interplanetary interloper. While the creature is certainly cool, and the first picture was, by and large, a fun ride, there really wasn't enough solid material in it to support a fast retread of this sort. The result is a creature that is still pretty fun to behold, but isn't enough in and of itself to carry an entire picture on its mere screen presence alone. Even if we're offered a spaceship full of Predators, what use is that if they have nothing meaningful to do? In the end, Predator 2 is just that: a meaningless picture with nothing to do.
As Robert Prosky so eloquently mused in John Carpenter's Christine: "Ya know, Pepper, ya can't polish a turd." Nevertheless, the folks at Fox Home Video attempt to shellac this log with a new special edition DVD (issued in conjunction with the equally tepid Alien vs. Predator). Technically, the release is quite good, starting with a vibrant new transfer that's anamorphically enhanced and framed at 1.85:1. The color is lush despite the picture being largely shrouded in dark and shadows. The detail is terrific, but there is some frequently evident edge enhancement that intrudes on an otherwise good presentation. The audio is much better than the previous stripped-down release, this time available in either DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1. I did find some trouble, however, with the usually superior DTS track: the score and ambient sound effects seemed to be too pumped up, while the dialogue was subdued a few notches, making for an often assaulting soundtrack. Just as you reach a volume level where you can clearly hear the dialogue, the surrounds roar obnoxiously with music or effects. I don't think I've seen anyone bungle a DTS track before, but…well, here it is.
If you're a lover of all things Predator, the special features on this two-disc set will likely tickle you up and down your spine. It begins with a feature commentary from director Hopkins. He offers plenty of insight and anecdotes about the making of the picture, yet he seems rather conspicuously reserved—almost as if he realizes the picture didn't work. There's also a second commentary that put writers Jim and John Thomas in front of the microphone. Over on Disc Two, you'll find a brand new documentary, "The Hunters and the Hunted," that, while it offers plenty of background information about the picture, seems rather self-conscious about this film that just never gelled. Following that are a collection of original featurettes from 1990 that are pithy and self-promoting and generally forgettable. (I admit that the exploration of the Predator's arsenal of weaponry is the most interesting of the bunch.) Naturally, there are trailers and TV spots on hand, and a still gallery, too. What's missing, however, are any deleted scenes. What scenes? I dunno, but Steven Hopkins mentions the picture had to be cut in order to secure an "R" rating—where are those scenes in this special edition?!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Sure, some Predator fans say this sequel is merely misunderstood. Well then, include me among those who misunderstand, because amidst all its bombast and copious carnage, I never really cared about anyone (or anything, for that matter) on screen. Granted, there's some new weaponry on display that is sort of fun, and it's always good to see Bill Paxton show up in just about any film, but that's not enough to warrant the price of admission (or purchase, as it applies to this new DVD). Still, if you're a Predator fan, then I've probably already lost your attention, raised your ire, and you're going to indulge yourself in the paltry pleasures on hand here anyway. If so, terrific. I respect and applaud your convictions; I simply don't share them with you.
Predator 2 is an unfortunate miscalculation, and is likely responsible for the equal miss of the new Alien vs. Predator feature—had sequel number two done a better job, fans wouldn't have been so desperate for something truly entertaining since Arnold quipped, "You're one ugly mother…" some 18 years ago. If you love all things Predator and can forgive a senseless narrative just to ogle this deadly dread-locked beastie, then you'll certainly enjoy this new release with all its accoutrements. If you're a more discerning connoisseur of vicious interplanetary encounters, you'll probably want to pass on this one. It's a shame, really; because I, too, had high hopes for this second outing.
Fox Home Video is found guilty of trying to disguise Predator doo-doo in a fancy two-disc special edition. It is what it is and no manner of slick delivery can change that this film simply missed. Guilty as charged.
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