The Empty Balcony: Predator

Predator is everything a 1980s action movie ought to be. It’s loud, overwrought, over-roided, and filled with cliché and blinding amounts of muzzle flash. All the characters are macho, carved out of wood, and traverse their fictional universe with names like Dutch! Dillion! Mac! Pancho! Blain! Hawkins! and...Billy. I’m surprised there wasn’t a character named ‘Duke’ in there somewhere. Oh, wait. Actor Bill Duke plays ‘Mac.’ Close enough.

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars, right in the middle of his peak as an action star, as Dutch!, leader of a small special forces group. They’ve arrived somewhere in Central America to carry out what they think is a rescue mission. Dutch’s team is classic ’80s action porn. Fully half the group looks like they spend all their free time flexing and ripping through their shirts. They glisten like body builders and grunt like, well, body builders.

There’s something fishy about their mission right from the start, as it is given to them by Dillon!, a CIA agent whom Dutch knows from their shared past. Played to the hilt by Carl Weathers, Dillon bleeds slimy, and it’s obvious he knows more than he’s letting on.

“We’re a rescue team, not assassins.”

So says Dutch, a mere fifteen minutes of screen time before his team (plus Dillon) initiate the most lopsided firefight I think I’ve ever seen in a movie. Final score by my count:

  • ‘Rescue’ team: 58.
  • Heartless commie guerillas: 0.

After this first act, a viewer would be safe in assuming that the Predator of the title refers to Schwarzenegger and crew. But it does not. There’s an alien in the jungle stalking any person that carries a weapon. The alien kills its prey, skins them, and polishes their Predatorskulls to wear as trophies. It’s a good thing this alien is so ruthless, because there is no other way that a viewer could possibly develop any sympathy for protagonists like Dutch or Blain! (Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura). Blain is an action character ratcheted up to such ridiculous levels that I don’t think we’ll ever see his like in film again. The man wields a minigun as his personal weapon (if you know what a minigun is, you know how impossible this is), and declares that chewing tobacco will make a man a sexual Tyrannosaurus, just like him, among other eccentricities.

After Dutch and company carry out their ‘rescue,’ they discover they are being hunted by the alien predator. This isn’t good for them, as the predator has a light-distorting camouflage that makes it mostly invisible in the jungle wilderness. Now the team has met its match. In predictable fashion, characters start going by the wayside. But while the viewer knows this is going to happen, and who is going to make it to the last act, it’s still riveting to watch.

Director John McTiernan hewed to a time-tested method of making monster flicks. That is, he waited until late in the film to reveal his predator to viewers. Also like other films in the genre, much of this was due to problems with the production. (It’s amazing to me that the most frightening and suspenseful, and therefore the most effective, monster films all seemed to have production troubles play as much of a part in their success as the talents of the filmmakers. It makes me think that, left to their own devices, most filmmakers wouldn’t know what suspense was if it swam up and bit them in the ass.) No need to go into detail here, but the final product was excellent. The predator, when revealed, is a wonder of creature effects (Stan Winston, take a bow), accompanied by some fine, expressive acting by Kevin Peter Hall tucked away in the monster suit. It may not seem like much, considering the limited amount of screen time Hall had to work with, but it’s worth noting that he was blinded by his costume’s mask the entire time he was clothed for a scene.

Schwarzenegger is the star of Predator, so there’s no spoiler here in informing the viewer that Dutch survives for a final confrontation with the predator. This final act is what the film has been building towards. It’s one on one, in the jungle, at night, with no firearms. As far as climactic battles go in action fare, this is among the best.

Predator has its fair share of laughable ’80s action moments, but when it gets down to the meat of the story, it’s a hell of a watch.

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