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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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The Predator, Review: Autistic liberty

The Predator, Review: Autistic liberty

Fourth instalment in the franchise and third in chronology, The Predator again plays with that one word. Remember Predator (1987), Predator 2 (1990) and Predators (2010)? You could also count the crossover films Alien v/s Predator (2004) and Alien v/s Predator Requiem (2007). They are all Predator vehicles all right, but which one predates which is hard to tell!

This one has at its core an autistic child and his sniper father at the core, is gorier than some of the earlier ventures and funny, if not funnier. It is also motor-mouthed and rapid-fired.

The official synopsis reads: “From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the hunt comes home. Now, the universe's most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species. When a young boy accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race."

It begins with a sniper and his two partners taking aim at Mexican drug cartel operators exchanging hostages for money. Quinn Mckenna is about to sight one of the operators when there is a crash landing of a spaceship, and his two colleagues are killed in the goriest manner. He manages to lay his hands on a small metallic ball, a huge mask and an arm guard, as evidence of the alien landing, and finds that they have, among other powers, the power to render him invisible. He sends the stuff by courier to his Post Box in his hometown, where his estranged wife Emily and autistic son Rory live, so that he can retrieve it when needed. A postman delivers the parcel to their home, in order to remind the family that their fees for retaining the post-box service are over-due.

Autistic genius Rory lays his hands on the box and presumes it is a video-game. He is teased by fellow students constantly, for his strange look, his allergy to loud sounds and slow demeanour. But fact is that he is a genius. His gifts include the ability to lay back chess boards with the pawns at the exact positions after they have been overturned, even when he is not playing and decoding complex artificial intelligence codes and languages. Bent on hiding behind a mask, he is shown two masks, one of a pirate and one of Frankenstein, by his mother. He rejects both, but picks the one sent by his father. It is Halloween, after all.

Down the road, as he asks "trick or treat", a man ridicules him, and the mask lets loose mayhem as a result. Meanwhile, Mckenna is being taken to a military jail in a bus, along with some others accused of major crimes on duty. His own fault is that he has kept evidence for himself. That is when Rory triggers the aliens’ return to earth. Are they out to destroy earth? If so, why? If not, what are they doing here? And who will stop them? Only Mckenna and his son have the resources, but they can surely do with help from the ‘ragtag’ group, called Group B.

Fred Dekker has among his credits Monster Squad, If Looks Could Kill and Robocop 3. He co-wrote Monster Squad with Shane Black, and the team is responsible for the script of this film as well, 34 years later. Characters are the creation of brothers Jim Thomas and John Thomas. Black directed the film. Grasping the plot is not easy, due to three reasons: firstly, the opening scenes were shot/projected in poor lighting; secondly scenes themselves are not really explanatory; thirdly, most of the dialogue is spoken by motor-mouth characters, participating in a rapid fire round. Perhaps this was an attempt at restricting the length to 107 minutes, but 10.7 more minutes of clarity would have helped the film, rather than hindered its flow. There is a back-story to each of the members of Group B, and that is a swell idea. If only they had made it easier to follow.

The ruse of a prisoner grabbing another by the throat and thereby making the captors intervene, leading to the over-powering of the escort party is one that has been beaten to death. However, the entire track of the autistic child’s plight is a welcome inclusion in a film about so much body chopping, hurling, guns, explosions, blood and hideous aliens. Also welcome is the arrival of space dogs on earth, one of which gets tamed. How Casey Brackett, the top biologist drafted to advise and diagnose on Operation Stargazer escapes the wrath of the alien is another clever ploy. Don’t miss the references to Whoopi Goldberg and James Bond (a clock starts the reverse countdown at 007). Some portion is definitely campy and has several insider jokes. Controls in place to keep the captive aliens and their gear secure always seem to be insufficient. Also, the rivalry between government officials and the military criminals seems highly exaggerated. Action scenes are neatly executed, if a trifle too fast to really register.

Boyd Holbrook (Milk, A Walk among the Tombstones, Logan) as Quinn McKenna exhibits both the requisite qualities—that of a ruthless sniper and a caring father. As he insists, he is not a ‘killer’, who would enjoy what he does, but a soldier who is merely doing his duty. Much fun is made of Trevante Rhodes’ first name, Gaylord ‘Nebraska’ Williams, a former Marine who enlists in a special Predator-hunting operation headed up by Quinn, his best friend. Jacob Tremblay as Rory is a gifted child actor in the 11-12 years’ bracket. Olivia Munn as Casey Bracket, a disgruntled science teacher and biologist who joins the crew's mission, shows spunk whenever it is needed, as does Yvonne Strahovski as Emily McKenna.

Sterling K. Brown plays Will Traeger, a government agent who wants to jail Quinn but later needs his help with fighting the Predators, comes across more as a villain. Keegan-Michael Key is Coyle, a man who teams up with Quinn and Williams to fight the Predators, the cause which finds support also with Thomas Jane as Baxley, a military veteran from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Alfie Allen as Lynch, a former Marine and Augusto Aguilera as Nettles, a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot who has suffered a traumatic brain injury from a crash.

Incidentally, besides an autistic child, there is a military criminal who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome.

Why are the 'space' aliens so called? Are there any other kinds of aliens? How did they manage to acquire what they did from the entire universe? Did they find like in the millions and billions of planets and stars? Surely must not have been easy. And why did they leave earth for the last? Cinematic liberty? Artistic liberty? Or autistic liberty? You decide.

Rated R. Many swear words muted by the Central Board of Film Certification in the version released in India

Rating: ***

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaG1KZqrLvM

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

India



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