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Black breathes life into franchise with 'The Predator'

  • Film-Review-The-Predator

    This image released by 20th Century Fox shows a scene from "The Predator."

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Film-Review-The-Predator-1

    This image released by 20th Century Fox shows Olivia Munn, left, and Jacob Tremblay in a scene from "The Predator."

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Film-Review-The-Predator-2

    This image released by 20th Century Fox shows a scene from "The Predator."

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Film-Review-The-Predator-3

    This image released by 20th Century Fox shows, from left, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan Michael-Key, Thomas Jane and Augusto Aguiliera in a scene from "The Predator."

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Lazarus was resurrected only once. The Predator franchise, however, has been brought back to life three times including the just-released The Predator. This revival by writer-director Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3, Nice Guys) might just make it.

Black’s strength as a writer is gritty buddy comedies, with stylish violence, action as a punchline, and natural dialogue, most of it with a male bent.

Take away the sci-fi and horror elements from 1987’s original Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that’s precisely what remains. The fact that Black has history with the series — he played Hawkins, one of the elite soldiers in the original (the smaller, funnier one with glasses who is the alien’s first victim) — no doubt helps him get the series back to what it was: fun and action-packed.

Black can’t make this sequel original, but he does his best to make it enjoyable.

The Predator

Directed by Shane Black. Screenplay by Fred Dekker and Black. A 20th Century Fox release showing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, Levis Commons, Bowling Green, Mall of Monroe, and Sundance Kid Drive-in. Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, and crude sexual references. Running time: 107 minutes.

Critic's rating: ★★★½

Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, and Jacob Tremblay.

The Predator begins much like the first film, in a remote foreign jungle with a team of elite U.S. soldiers being taken out by another predator. What happened in the moments before the alien makes quick work of them is what the story is really about: The predator is actually prey, barely surviving a space battle with another starship by escaping to Earth, where he crash lands, is defeated in combat by highly skilled and decorated sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), and taken captive by a team from the U.S. government.

The Predator will escape the lab and make short work of its captors, even as its own hunter arrives to continue the chase. Caught up in this kill-or-be-killed contest is McKenna, his estranged wife (Yvonne Strahovski) and his brilliant and autistic young son (Jacob Tremblay) back home; a group of imprisoned soldiers-turned fugitives, and a biologist (Olivia Munn) who is handy with a microscope as she is with a machine gun.

The group bickers with each other, which is really just an excuse for Black and Fred Dekker, the film’s cowriter, to write locker-room banter. Keegan-Michael Key as the wisecracking soldier Coyle is Black’s surrogate Hawkins, with jokes about female genitalia and sexual proclivities. Munn plays along with the male-oriented humor as well. The point of it all is to bring levity to the film and to show a bonding process among the strangers. The new cast is fine in the moment and forgettable by the end.

Rather than cloning the original Predator formula, Black adds a few twists to the mix of his own, including a familial aspect to the plot, which is unexpected given his often machismo style in the action film genre.

WATCH: The Predator trailer

The son, Rory, is himself a target of the alien and the military. After defeating the alien, Quinn takes some of the weapons. Knowing that government agents will come after him, he packs the technology in a box and mails it home, where Rory discovers it, deciphers it, and activates it, which draws the attention of the predators.

Tremblay, who showed his spectacular film debut in 2011's Room was no fluke with his performance in last year’s Wonder, gives the film some dramatic depth and heart, while Holbrook and most of the cast is good for laughs and/or action.

Black throws in a few other surprises, adding to the franchise’s cannon about the Predators and their motivations, as well as the aliens themselves, which are evolving into bigger and badder hunters. The predator from 1987, for example, would be a good deal smaller than the latest model and not much of a worthy opponent.

That’s a similar approach most of the Predator sequels have taken: increasing the size, skills, and weaponry of the alien hunter, while missing the fun of the original thriller.

The Predator is familiar — there’s only so much that can be done with the concept, after all — but at least it is entertaining.

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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