For a movie like Predators, you don't need a deep script -- just one that understands how to make people laugh when it's not making them tense -- or making them scream.
Unfortunately, Predators doesn't do much with any of those elements. The action runs from enjoyable to merely passable and the plot is elegantly simple: escape. So it's up to the characters themselves -- and the way they are written -- to make the intervals between adrenaline jolts move more fleetingly.
Give credit to Adrien Brody, playing a mercenary named Royce, for keeping things on a properly skewed level -- as the only one seeing the whole forest, while everyone else is squabbling about trees. Occasionally too serious, Brody has a certain menacing deadpan when he wants to. Thankfully, he's given plenty of opportunities to display it.
Directed by Nimrod Antal from a script by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, Predators offers one of the more extreme opening moments in recent film-watching: a man, Royce, waking up to find himself hurtling toward Earth from what is obviously tens of thousands of feet. Eventually his chute self-deploys, though he hits the ground hard -- and awakens to find several other people who have just dropped into the same small zone of the jungle as him. And many of them -- like him -- are carrying big guns.
That's because they are all, in their own way, professional killers: Mexican drug cartel, special-ops, revolutionary, freedom-fighter, serial killer. And as becomes apparent to the characters within about 20 minutes (much earlier to those of us who have seen the other films in this series), they're not on Earth but on some distant jungle planet.
They've been specially selected and kidnapped to become the game in a big-game hunt -- which turns out to be the sport of that alien species the movie marketers christened the Predator.
If you've never seen one of these films, the Predator is your everyday mean-looking space alien, with the build of a pro wrestler, fleshy dreadlocks and a four-cornered, four-fanged monstrosity of a mouth. Signature move: reaching inside your chest and yanking out your skull and spine, still attached to each other.
There are seven human characters beside Brody and the Predators. The main suspense lies in figuring out the order in which they'll be eliminated and who will be alive for the finale. Except not really: There are algorithms that could predict these things.
Those formulas also detail when the lead male and female -- both tough-bitten action junkies for whom killing comes too easily -- have "the talk." You know -- the "what happened to make you this way?" talk, usually followed by the "Life would be so different if only..." aria and the "who are we kidding" wrap-up.
In its behalf, you can say that Predators never tries to tell us too much about the brutal creatures, how they can seem so primitive and yet command obviously superior technology, or what their planet is like or anything else. They're simply a force of the universe, one hell-bent on laying waste to all other species. Except, of course, for the one Predator who lets himself be talked into joining the human cause. I guess that proves they're not all bad.
But this movie isn't particularly exciting, because, in the end, this formula piece never uses its imagination about how to craft a tense puzzle, when shooting and blowing stuff up are still available as plotting alternatives.
It's not that Predators is bad -- just mediocre and by the book. Which means it will fit in just fine with the rest of this series.