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The opening scene of "Predators" is so audacious that to describe it nearly qualifies as a spoiler, but what the hey. A mercenary (Adrien Brody) awakes as he's plummeting from a great height, the sky rushing past, the ground rushing up. He fumbles around for a parachute ripcord, finds none, and continues to drop like a sack of nickels until the chute automatically deploys and makes his landing in an unknown jungle merely abusive rather than fatal. He crashes through trees and lands facedown in the dirt. Then, boom, title screen. The fanboy-laden theater where I saw the movie opening night broke into lusty applause.
Despite the casting of the Pianist in the lead role – a perch immortally occupied by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the singular 1987 sci-fi action classic "Predator" – it's obvious at the outset that director Nimrod Antal and producer Robert Rodriguez know what their audience wants, and it's not just to see an Oscar-winning Diet Coke shill dropped from high altitude. Since the 1990 "Predator 2" and the two "Aliens vs. Predators" spin-offs (one of which drew a namby-pamby PG-13 rating), the "Predator" franchise has, to varying degrees, sucked. Antal and Rodriguez take the Predator back to its roots by essentially turning the first movie inside out. Rather than a hulking, spider-mandibled extraterrestrial hunting a team of commandos through a Central American jungle, "Predators" (literally) drops a hodgepodge of human murderers and mercenaries onto a forested planet to be hunted. The most dangerous game includes a Yakuza assassin, a trigger-happy Russian soldier, a cartel gunman lifted from Baja and a death-row inmate. The only sympathetic player in the bunch is an Israeli sniper (a fierce Alice Braga), who's determined not to leave anyone to die alone. Still, they're bad people, and you know they're doomed. The only questions remaining are how good the killing will be and whether the Predators will be sufficiently awesome.
Check and check. Impalement, decapitation, disembowelment, disintegration, explosion, evisceration – people and Predators alike all get theirs in some nasty way or other. The Predators are shown to be brutal and barbaric but also oddly honorable, unsatisfied with cheap shots. It's a hunt, after all, and if you're going to abduct Adrien Brody and schlep him to an alien world only to shoot him in the face at your first opportunity, you might as well have saved the trouble and stopped by the filming of "The Village" six years ago to run him through with your giant Predator ax.
Where "Predators" suffers, alas, is in the dialogue, which nearly matches the lead content of the gunfights. Nowhere in here do we find a line as exquisitely cold-blooded as Arnie's "If it bleeds, we can kill it," though Topher Grace has a couple of quote-worthy moments as dweeby cannon fodder. The script also makes the calculated but profound mistake of not allowing Brody's character to reveal his name until the final act. Names are powerful handles, and until we know his, every time he appears on screen, even with rifle erupting, an utterly ripped torso, and a voice like charred gravel, you think, Oh, right, I'm watching Adrien Brody, the dude from "The Darjeeling Limited," and I'm rather hoping a Predator yanks his spine out by hand.