Early in “The Predator” someone describes the outer-space invader as resembling an “alien Whoopi Goldberg.” Because it has dreadlocks, you see.
When you hear a joke that would’ve sounded moldy 30 years ago, it does not bode well for the movie. And “The Predator” lives up to this bad omen, as it mixes together humdrum action scenes with tepid comedy and a collection of strikingly dull performances. Suddenly Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leaden quips from the original movie don’t sound so bad after all.
The 1987 “Predator,” in which Big Arnie matched up nicely with the alien intruder, was a slick and bloodily entertaining action picture. The new film takes place in the same storytelling universe, but with the alarming news that the alien may be interested in stealing DNA from us humanoids.
A predator is captured, but it does not stay in captivity long. You probably guessed that. We need an Army sniper (Boyd Holbrook, from “Logan”) and a scientist (Olivia Munn) to team up and find the creature.
Holbrook’s character has a genius son (Jacob Tremblay, the boy from “Room”), who takes possession of a predator helmet and all of its power. So he’s in the posse, too.
They’re joined by a crew of ex-military psychiatric patients, who operate by the credo that predator-hunting is better than being in custody. Writer-director Shane Black is skilled at writing manly camaraderie, so some of their early scenes have juice — but playing their various psychiatric quirks for laughs (this movie finds Tourette syndrome hilarious) feels like more 30-year-old humor.
I liked the action-comedy of Black’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “The Nice Guys,” so it’s disappointing that “The Predator” flounders around in search of a consistent groove. Frequently violent and mostly glib, it’s an unpleasant throwback to the days when collateral damage — the deaths of nameless and faceless supporting characters — was played for laughs or barely noticed.
And there’s no Schwarzenegger. Included in the crew is Trevante Rhodes (from “Moonlight”), a strong, sly presence, and Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane, who provide a few chuckles with an ongoing feud. “This Is Us” star Sterling K. Brown is a fine actor, but his government official has exactly one quirk in this movie (chewing gum) and that’s it.
The characters are ciphers — and while some action pictures thrive with cardboard characters given gusto by charismatic stars (see Schwarzenegger reference above), that doesn’t happen here. Even when they strap on various pieces of predator hardware, the humans remain low wattage.
One final objection: This movie has hippo-sized alien dogs, evidently a predator’s best friend. Seriously: Dogs from space? I think the “Predator” franchise just jumped the shark.
“The Predator” (1½ stars)
The latest installment in the franchise mixes humdrum action scenes, tepid comedy and dull performances — an underwhelming mix that makes all those leaden Schwarzenegger one-liners better in retrospect. Boyd Holbrook and Olivia Munn lead the cast of predator-chasers, a collection of ciphers waiting to be killed by the aliens.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Showing: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Cascade Mall