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Predator 2 (1990)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

PREDATOR 2 (1990)

Starring: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Kevin Peter Hall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Ruben Blades

Written By: Jim Thomas, John Thomas Directed By: Stephen Hopkins

The Short Version

This time, the Predator is stalking the urban jungle of LA.

The setting and the hero may have changed, but the spirit still feels true to form.

Bonus: it’s got Gary Busey while he’s still “all there.”

The pacing is extremely fast, and does the movie a lot of favors.

If you dig sci fi action, check out Predator 2.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

NACHOS WITH JALAPENO QUESO.

Hot, melty goodness that’s great for snacking.


Pairs Well With...

DOS EQUIS.

Cool cerveza for the LA heat.

“He’s on safari.  The lions.  The tigers.  The bears.  Oh, my.”


Like many hardcore action fans who remember the Golden Age as it was happening, while I was excited about the news that Predator 2 was coming out, my expectations weren’t all that high.  After all, the original Predator was about as solid as could be, and one of the few flicks that really earned the moniker “instant classic.”  Besides, how good could it be with Arnold Schwarzenegger being replaced by Danny Glover?

As it turns out, not only is Predator 2 very damn good indeed, but it’s also been one of my favorite go-to action flicks of any kind for over twenty years.  (Yeah; it’s been over twenty years, kids.  Scary, isn’t it?)

Our story takes place in a future (cough) version of Los Angeles, circa 1997.  I give immediate points to the production design team for keeping their inner nerds in check and making then-future LA look almost exactly like then-modern LA, which is exactly how real cities evolve.  Unfortunately for the tourism industry folks, the one difference is that this version of LA has got a crime problem that’s even worse.  Ouch.  (Not only that, but LA’s transit system wasn’t good enough for the filmmakers, so the subway scenes actually use the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART.  Burn.)

Take, for example, our opening scene.  A group of Colombian drug lords called the Scorpios has just shot two motorcycle cops, and is using enough ordnance to make the NRA blush to keep other cops from rescuing their dying comrades.  It’s all the underpowered officers can do to keep the Scorpios from retreating into their headquarters building to get even more weapons and armor.  The action’s so nasty that even the media vultures end up running for cover.

Fortunately, hero cop Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon) finds away to rescue the downed officers, but at the expense of letting the Scorpios into their armory.  When he leads his fellow police in after them, he expects a bloodbath, and he does find one… just not the one he imagined.  It seems that in the ninety or so seconds it took the cops to follow the drug gang into the building (which looks like a military armory), someone else has killed every single one of the Colombians (save for the leader, who chooses to run to the roof and fly off instead), without firing a single bullet.  There’s even a guy hanging naked from the ceiling like a slab of meat being left to cure.  What could have happened here?

We’ve all read the title of the movie, so we’ve got a pretty good idea, and so does a shifty government agent named Peter Keys (Gary Busey, Universal Soldier II: Brother in Arms).  The question is: between the G-man, the cop, and the Predator, which hunter will come out on top?  Place your bets…

I love Predator 2.  To me, it’s one of the best, most fun action sequels ever made.  That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect; but, it doesn’t have to be.

Predator 2 does what a good sequel is supposed to do: it takes most of the stuff that worked for the original film and builds itself around a similar frame while still presenting enough differences to stand out as its own unique picture.  Different setting, different heroes, yes; but the spirit is still very much the same.  In capturing that original essence and distilling it into something new and yet still familiar, director Stephen Hopkins (The Ghost and the Darkness) has done something that James Cameron could not with a certain other franchise sequel four years earlier, and that really makes all the difference.

The biggest change, of course, is the setting, which trades the lush jungles of Latin America for the urban jungle of Los Angeles.  (Or, if you’d rather, it trades dropping an alien into a Special Forces flick for dropping an alien into a Cops vs. Dealers flick.)  It’s a change that works: it keeps the stage fresh so that the audience doesn’t feel like it’s just watching a remake of the first film, while at the same time, the translation makes sense both physically and within the originally established frame.  The phrase “urban jungle” is apt; physically, it presents a similar obstacle course for the hunt.  Storywise, we already know that these aliens look to hunt armed prey in sweltering heat; one can easily argue that summer in LA provides even more potential targets than the average Latin American jungle would, especially with a gang war going on.

Any other changes necessarily follow the change in setting.  Ah-nold and the testosterone crew of the first flick – while perfect in the real jungle – would have stood out as caricatures in the city.  Cops are the natural analog, and someone more capable of playing the Everyman while still kicking ass is just the twist this movie needs – which is what it gets in the form of Danny Glover.  For many who dislike Predator 2, Glover is the film’s weakest point; for me, he’s one of its strongest.  It’s Glover who allows the film to evolve from a straight up action extravaganza to the level of being a more fleshed-out story with actual subplots and the occasional character who’s allowed to take a step beyond being just an archetype.  Sure, the script has all of those things on paper, but it’s Glover’s skill as a leading actor that sells it all.  He plays the action role convincingly (the shark is only really jumped once, during the drainpipe sequence), and his presence as both an Everyman and as a mentor for those who work with him helps to draw the audience in even further.  By bringing the action into a city – i.e. into a setting well within the day to day experience of most audiences – the script requires more plausibility to work; Danny Glover makes it plausible.  (Relatively speaking, of course.)

And hey, having backup from Ruben Blades and Maria Conchita Alonso doesn’t hurt, either, and Bill Paxton would be a standout even if he wasn’t taking the opportunity to complete sci fi action’s ultimate trifecta.  (Spoiler that’s not a spoiler: Paxton is the only actor to have played characters killed by the Terminator, the creatures from the Alien movies, and a Predator.)

Also standing out – and doing a little borrowing from the playbook of another franchise in the process – is Gary Busey in his hair trigger prime before later stepping into the realm of “complete batshit insanity.”  Busey’s character is the metaphorical Man in Black (his suit’s ice grey, but still) who knows about the alien stalking the city and who aims to capture it for military research purposes.  (Different use of the word “Company,” but same idea, eh?)  He’s also a great human foil for Glover, and an intense counterpoint to the Predator, thanks to the talent that Busey brings to bear.  For those who forgot why he became famous in the first place, consider this movie one of your reminders.

The other actor of major note, of course, is Kevin Peter Hall (Harry and the Hendersons), making his return under the Predator’s makeup.  You never see his face, but through other body language, it’s Hall who gives the creature a genuine personality that extends beyond “alien badass with awesome weapons.”  Much like Kane Hodder did for Jason Voorhees, Hall shows that it’s possible to act beyond the suit and the makeup and create something real.

All of these talented people are thrown into a story that rarely lets up.  The last hour of Predator 2 is one extended chase sequence (with occasional pauses in action that allow the audience to breathe, but the chase never stops).  This allows the film to get away with a few unresolved issues without making the audience feel cheated in the process, and more to the point, it’s just damned exciting to watch.  More importantly, though, it’s a relentlessness that the human brain can handle.  It’s not a bunch of images flashing by faster than the eyes can catch or explosion after explosion after what the hell what that explosion.  In other words, it’s not the Cinema du Headache later patented by Michael Bay.  It’s actually fun to watch, and that counts for a lot.

And speaking of fun…

Much like a lot of people completely forgot everything about Jason Goes to Hell the moment Freddy’s glove showed up (probably not a bad thing, in that case), one brief shot of the Predator’s trophy case was all anyone could talk about once Predator 2 hit the screen.  That shot, of course, included an Alien skull in the trophy case, and you all know which Alien I mean.  There had already been rumblings, and this made people certain that an Alien vs. Predator movie would be hitting the multiplex within the next two years, tops.  Instead, much like slasher fans had to wait ten years for their two favorite killers to go at each other in Freddy vs. Jason, sci fi action fans would have to wait fourteen years for Alien vs. Predator to show up outside the bookstore or the video arcade.

With that said, I must admit that the Alien skull is not my favorite moment in Predator 2.  In fact, my favorite moment has nothing at all to do with any kind of space alien.  It’s when the Jamaican drug posse’s gold-flecked and zebra stripe pimp mobile pulls up to Harrigan and the window opens to release an enormous cloud of reefer smoke.  I don’t know why, but when the dude asks “Ya want some ganja, mon?”, it’s just way funnier than it has any right to be.

Is Predator 2 perfect?  No.  As hinted earlier, the drainpipe sequence is absurd almost to the point of distraction, and like everyone else, I felt a bit let down at the lack of real detail inside the alien ship.  But I’m willing to accept that and a few other quibbles for an overall fun, relentless action story that stays true to the spirit and the lore of the original film.  This is what an action sequel is supposed to be, folks.

Bottom line, if you haven't seen Predator 2, you need to see Predator 2, and if it’s been a while, you need to get reacquainted.  This is one action flick that does things right, and has definitely earned a place as one of my anytime go-to movies to be kept within easy reach in my video cabinet.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2012


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