Subversive fourth ‘Predator’ movie is fast, funny

Shane Black’s “The Predator” probably isn’t what anyone expected from a new Predator movie. It’s very fast, very funny, and, as with all Black works, gleefully embraces genre cliches and turns them sideways.

“The Predator” doesn’t have much to do with 2010’s fun reboot “Predators,” although it does reference the big, mindless Arnold Schwarzenegger original from 1987.

It’s Black’s fourth feature as director, following his ultra-successful stint as a screenwriter (peaking with the million-dollar “Lethal Weapon”). It also follows his lesser-known career as an actor (including a role in the original “Predator”).

Not only does “The Predator” bring Black around to some kind of monstrous full circle, he takes it a step further. His co-writer is Fred Dekker, director and co-writer of an early Black screenplay, 1987’s “The Monster Squad.”

“The Predator,” which takes place on Halloween and features a reference to Frankenstein’s monster, feels more like “The Monster Squad” than it does the original “Predator.” The plot is a shambles, but it doesn’t matter; Black’s primary concern is twisting everything up and moving in odd directions.

Two new Predators, a regular one and a bigger, more evolved one (complete with dreadlocks and four opposing fangs), land on earth and are seemingly at odds each other.

Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) teams with military outcasts and misfits — Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes, from “Moonlight”), Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), Lynch (Alfie Allen) and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) — and a scientist, Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), to stop them.

McKenna’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay, from “Room”), on the autism spectrum, seems to be able to understand the predators. And a government agent, Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), gets in the way.

Understanding why they were used, Black takes the old tropes that go back to sci-fi movies from the 1950s — the gifted kid, the pretty female scientist, the band of misfit fighters — and makes them fresh.

But in “The Predator,” they don’t fall into their old patterns; they turn out from under the plot and show up at new points.

Black also is preoccupied with cinematic violence, from Martin Riggs’ masochistic tendencies in “Lethal Weapon” on up; he looks at them from a different angle.

Blood and gore are excessive, extreme to the point of parody. Death has no real-world weight. Characters, both human and monster, can die at any time (even though McKenna at one point tells his son that killing will not be necessary).

The action moves quickly, and as things ramp up into the third act, it inevitably eclipses the humor. It’s great fun, and the brisk, 107-minute movie never outstays its welcome. But it still grows exhausting.

Until then, the dialogue comes in spurts, and every character is funny. It’s like the case with an old screwball comedy: If you spend too much time laughing, you’ll miss three more jokes.

Black doesn’t even spare the franchise title, with Bracket positing that the monster is more like a sports hunter — “like a bass fisherman” — than a predator. Traeger responds: “Well, we took a vote and ‘Predator’ was cooler.”

As with his “Iron Man 3” — which softly parodied the superhero genre with a fake villain, an army of empty suits and a helpful, genius kid — writer-director Black again climbs into the armor of an impenetrable franchise and subverts it from the inside out.

He’s a revolutionary infiltrator. We need people like him to keep Hollywood from getting lazy. This Predator’s prey is itself.

The Predator
Three stars
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown
Written by: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Directed by: Shane Black
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

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