Well, it’s official: the Road to Hell is pretty much paved over. Directing duo the Strause Brothers have given interviews in which they expressed their (presumably sincere) intention to return to the dark, scary tone of 1979’s ALIEN, yet ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM is just about as bad as its 2004 predecessor ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. In fact, if the Straus Brothers had truly wanted to remain faithful to the tone of ALIEN, they would not have made ALIENS VS. PREDATOR at all, because there is quite literally nothing in this film that harkens back in any way to Ridley Scott’s tense, atmospheric, and utterly convincing direction; the mindless action aesthetic is pure AVP. To be fair, the new screenplay (by Shane Salemo) jetisons the videogame structure of Paul W. S. Anderson’s AVP script, but eliminating a single flaw is hardly enough to justify another re-hash of an idea that was never much more than a joke to begin with – especially when that idea is so bogged down with inherited baggage and continuity problems that it has little chance yielding a convincing film. The funny thing is that, if the AVP premise had been abandoned in favor of featuring an original monster, this scenario might have yielded a halfway decent (if not to bright) B-movie monster flick. As it is, we just get a muddled mess.
Picking up where ALIEN VS. PREDATOR left off, the new film begins with a fallen Predator giving birth to a chest-burster Alien, which runs rampant on the Predator spaceship, leading to a crash-landing back on Earth, near a small town. Back on the Predator home world, a “Cleaner” sees the result on a view-screen and heads to Earth to wipe out any evidence of the crash. For some reason, the Predator does not use one of those nifty bombs that all Predators seem to have at their disposal for quickly eliminating all traces; instead, he goes about picking off Aliens one by one, disposing of the bodies with acid. (Of course, a single blast would have ended the movie at the five-minute mark, leaving lots of unhappy viewers.) Apparently unable to resist a little recreational killing, the Predator picks off a policeman, skins him, and leaves him hanging from a tree, which pretty much contradicts the whole “leave no traces” plan, but what the hell – this is only a movie, right?
Despite being able to more or less magically pop up wherever there is an Alien (like Jason in the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, he seems to have an off-screen Instant Teleportation Device), the Predator does not do a very good job of cleaing up the mess, which turns into a citywide slaughter before long. The townspeople who are fortunate enough not to die immediately eventually figure out that they need to get out of town before the U.S. government nukes the place. Why the military feels the need to opt for this solution, when they don’t even really know what’s happening in the town, is also left unexplained, as is the motivation for a colonel in the Nation Guard who turns over a Predator weapon to the Weyland-Yutania company, which is supposed to form some kind of continuity link with the previous ALIEN films. (Some defenders of the film insist that “Colonel” is really a government spook, not a military man at all. This leaves the question of how he comes to be in the chain of command, in a postion to order a nuclear strike without Presidential approval, and why there are no repercusions against him when he does.)
The plot absurdities ensure that the film is completely incapable of generating genuine suspense – you simply cannot take it seriously. Matters are hardly helped by the cast of characters. Early on, there are a few nice touches between old friends Dallas (Pasquale) and Morales (Ortiz): the former is now an ex-con, the latter the local sheriff, but they try to get along, like a pale version of the cop-criminal duos who used to populate old Warner Brothers gangster movies in the 1930s. Unfortunately, for the rest of the cast, we get a parade of non-entities who all seem lifted from a bad slasher film, including a some high school thugs and a hot chick who strips down to her mismatched bathing suit.
Some – if not all – of this might have been forgiven if the film had at least been fun in a mindless kind of way, but the action seldom if ever works. Although R-rated, ALIENS VS. PREDATOR serves up nothing in the way of memorable shocks. There is not a single decent scare in the film, and even the bloody violence seldom generates any excitement. Although the film is, thankfully, not drowned in cartoony computer-generated imagery, the Strause Brothers shoot most of the monster scenes in blurry tight shots that render the action almost unintelligible. You frquently lose track of which monster is killing the humans, and almost as soon realize that you do not care.
Things are hardly helped by the introduction of a Pred-Alien, a hybrid of the two species. Sticking the ugly Predator face on one of the Aliens simply reminds us of how special was the original H. R. Giger design fir ALIEN; the attempt to improve on it proves there are times when one should leave well enough alone.
As bad as the new design is, the function of the hybrid Pred-Alien is even worse. It does little to make it stand out from the other Aliens, so that it feels like little more than a gratuitous conceit – a lame writer’s device: the Pred-Alien can apparently skip the Face-Hugger stage of Alien life-cycle by planting chest-bursters directly into pregnant women. Thus the script seeks to justify the otherwise unaccountable number of aliens that show up in the town in such a very short time.
The biggest mistake is a holdover from the first AVP: both films seem to think that Predators are cool and audiences will enjoy watching them kill lots of Aliens. (Greg Strause even called the Predator the “star of this movie.”) The problem is that the Predators are loathsomely decadent beings who kill for the fun of it; it is entirely their fault that this Alien menace is unleashed on Earth, and the only reasonable response would be to want to see any any and all Predators suffer a big Karmic payback for their atrocities.
Unfortunately, with only one Predator in the film, the script (rather predictably) has to avoid killing its “hero,” denying the audience the best form of satisfaction they could desire. When the final wrestling match takes place, it is too little, too late, and the outcome weasles out by offering a draw, as if afraid of alienating fans of one or the other franchise. You can forgive a monster movie for not providing a great plot, but at the very least it should have the nerve to deliver some all-out monster action instead of tippy-toeing like a frightened amateur afraid of setting off a minefield.
ALIENS VS. PREDATOR is a lifeless recycling not only of the franchises that lend their names on the marquee, but also of several other classic horror films. With its small band of survivors fighting off the encroaching menace, it recalls John Carpenter films like ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13 and GHOSTS OF MARS. George Romero’s THE CRAZIES provides the template for a tale of local residents trying to escape a small town before the government-sanctioned purge results in the deaths of everyone within the borders. And RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD provides the sinister government-sanctioned method of nipping the menace in the bud. Although familiar, these plot devices are resilient enough to form the basis for a decent action-horror flick. Too bad the script didn’t just leave out the titular monster in favor of doing something a little more original.
In at least one interview, Colin Strause said that the Predator “Cleaner” was nicknamed “Wolf” on set, after the Harvey Keitel character in PULP FICTION. This overlooks the fact that Wolf was based on a character that Keitel had played in THE PROFESSIONAL, a remake of LA FEMME NIKITA, which featured “Victor the Cleaner,” played by Jean Reno. Victor’s method of disposing of bodies (with acid) is far more similar to the Predator’s actions than anything that Wolf does in PULP FICTION.
ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (20th Century Fox, 2007). Directed by Colin Strause and Greg Strause. Written by Shane Salemo. Cast: Steven Pasquale, Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz, Johnny Lewis, Ariel Gade, Kristen Hager, Sam Trammell, Robert Joy, David Paetkau, Tom Woodruff Jr, Ian Whyte.