It took 23 years and a star, Adrien Brody, who looks less like Arnold Schwarzenegger than an exceptionally chiseled tax attorney, but producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal turn a neat trick with “Predators,” revitalizing a faltering franchise, founded in 1987 with “Predator” and trivialized by an ill-conceived 1990 sequel and two middling spin-offs.
Rodriguez, whose “Planet Terror” (2007) flaunted the inspired lunacy one might expect from a gritty slice of modern-day “Grindhouse,” finds his latest muse on Planet Predator, where monsters in residence are seduced not by chocolate-chip cookies and sexually charged text messages, but by the promise of fresh skulls for their trophy rooms.
It is there that Brody’s black-ops mercenary finds himself stranded with a crew of trained killers, including Alice Braga (“I Am Legend”) as a levelheaded sniper and the reliable Walton Goggins as an amoral redneck, this one a shade less sophisticated than the scripture-quoting psycho he plays on the FX series “Justified.”
It doesn’t take them long to grasp the gravity of their situation. Chosen as much for their own predatory instincts as their physical prowess, Brody and his fellow butchers (including a delightfully cuckoo Laurence Fishburne) find themselves on the chopping block.
There ensues a tense, effectively paced fight for survival, with the winners afforded the dubious honor of being designated as wildlife on an alien game preserve, like so many desperate — but surprisingly well-armed — rabbits.
Rather than taking the franchise in a newish direction, as “Predator 2” did by replacing Schwarzenegger with the comparatively destructible Danny Glover and relocating its indefatigable bogeyman from the jungles of Guatemala to the urban wasteland of Los Angeles, “Predators” is the sequel fans were probably expecting two decades ago.
It duplicates the original’s look and edge-of-your-seat feel, right down to Alan Silvestri’s rumbling score, updated here by longtime Rodriguez collaborator John Debney. That’s no small feat.
Despite its age, John McTiernan’s memorable “Predator” has grown old gracefully, its stylish special effects and explosive set pieces as impressive today as they were in ’87.
It may be, in fact, that Antal and Rodriguez lean too heavily on borrowed ideas; at times, “Predators” plays more like an homage than an honest-to-goodness sequel.
Yet screenwriters Alex Litvak and Michael Finch provide enough twists on the formula to sustain the possibility of more chapters to come — a prospect that, based on the evidence, seems quite enticing.
Starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov
Written by Alex Litvak, Michael Finch
Directed by Nimród Antal
Running time 1 hour, 46 minutes