Monday, June 2, 2014

PREDATOR 2 (1990)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, cosmological*

There's not a lot to say about the sequel to the original PREDATOR. which, as I noted in my review, benefited from the filmmakers' knowledge of the tropes of "men's adventure" stories.  Nor can PREDATOR 2 boast any of the character moments seen in the much later 2010 sequel PREDATORS.  PREDATOR 2 takes the suspenseful concept of the original film-- which took place in a South American jungle-- and moved it to "the urban jungle" of Los Angeles.  Since the main plot involved the Predator hunting in a city overrun by gang-wars between Columbian and Jamaican drug-lords, the filmmakers moved the action seven years into the future.  Despite the time-displacement, though, this is still in essence a contemporary action-film.

The action-aspects of the film are enjoyable enough in a mindless way: lots of gun-duels and fight-scenes. Director Stephen Hopkins and his writing-team try to substitute the macho culture of L.A. cops for the machismo of the mercenaries from the original, but what they present is ultimately shallow, even for a big-budget action-flick.  Central character Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) and his cop-buddies are already stressed by the drug-lords' battles, when Harrigan begins to become aware of a "third player" who's going around gutting and skinning the participants of the gang-war-- and even a local cop, who happens to be Harrigan's best cop-bud.  In addition to his hunting for the mysterious butcher, Harrigan butts heads with a strange government operation run by Agent Keyes (Gary Busey, playing a part that would have gone to Arnold Schwarzenegger had the latter actor accepted the role).

I enjoy a lot of brain-dead action-films in which maverick cops defy their superiors as they chase down perps who deserve to be blown away. However, though there was a possibility this could have worked even with the SF-concept of the "Predator" franchise, the weak link here is the flat and dimensionless character of Harrigan. Danny Glover stolidly plows through the predictable storyline as if he's shoveling coals in hell, and I tend to believe that an actor less talented than Glover might have engaged with the undemanding role to better effect.

Two minor sociological aspects of the film deal with the construction of race. Action-films have often been criticized for giving white heroes black buddies who can be killed off in order to motivate the hero toward vengeance, but PREDATOR 2 does reverse this trend by making the killed-off best friend a white guy to the Afro-American star. In a contemporary review, Roger Ebert tried to downgrade the film by claiming that the Predator aliens-- who do sport something like dreadlocks-- unfairly associated the menacing aliens with "black males."  This was shallow reasoning on Ebert's part, given that though the Predators are a menace, they subscribe to their own code of honor as well. At the climax Harrigan kills his adversary, only to be confronted by other members of his race. The other Predators, however, not only allow Harrigan to live because he beat his foe fairly, they give him a parting gift before they leave Earth. This is, to say the least, not the sort of character-note that appears in genuine race-baiting movies.  

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