“GET TO DA CHOPPAH!”
OK, perhaps it’s not exactly poetry, but verbal poetry takes a back seat to memorable imagery and quotability in cinema, and Schwarzenegger was savvy enough to realize that in the heyday of his action career. I, personally, felt like Predator was a little cheesy at the time, but on reviewing it, well, it’s still just about as cheesy I remember (whereas most of the usual suspects from the ’80s have gotten a whole lot cheesier).
The kids loved it. And there are some very remarkable things about this film. The first third is a run-of-the-mill ’80s-Commando-Rescue plot, though ably directed by John McTiernan (whose next feature would be the Christmas classic Die Hard) featuring Apollo Creed and the other future governor, Jesse “I aint’ got time to bleed” Venture (who would show up in next week’s showing of Running Man as Captain Freedom, which we skipped to see the Hayao Miyazaki film Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro).
But even this third is sort of noteworthy as it is peopled by characters who might be boiled down to “Ripped Indian”, “Ripped Ugly Black Dude”, “Ripped Pretty Black Dude”, “Somewhat Less Ripped White Guy With Glasses”, etc., but who are actually attended to, despite the demands of the action story. This movie cares about its musclebound heroes, and has the advantage of a cast that actually kind of looks like it could do the amazing feats of strength and survival required (pace Tom Cruise).
By the way, is it just my imagination or do the women who turn up in some of the Arnold films, like Elpidia Carroll and Maria Conchita Alonzo, look a lot like his baby mama?
Anyway, before you know it, Commando is turning into Ten Little Indians, although I was impressed retroactively at how well the movie disguises that. You kind of think that they aren’t all going to die, even when Billy says “We’re all gonna die” pretty early on. As I said, I think I liked it better this time than the first time, perhaps because the first part didn’t seem quite so clichéd. (I mean, seriously, what percentage of movies in any given ’80s year was a “jungle rescue” picture? 15%?)
There’s also something kind of patriotic, kind of “America is the good guys”, kind of flag wavy about the whole thing. We like that. Even when sneaky Carl Weathers is doing his (obvious) reveal, you also know he gets his chance for redemption, because, warts-and-all, America is still the Good Guys. (This is, like, the most ’80s/Reagan subtext possible.)
Where I was surprised was the Predator’s camouflage. That seemed like such a cool effect at the time, and it was, but it looks really rough now. Like “He’s standing right there! Are you blind?” rough. This, like those quick cuts that by now seem interminably long to our increasingly trained brains, did not age well. The puppetry/face mask stuff is still exquisite, though. The movie lost its visual effects Oscar to—I kid you not—the Joe Dante/Dennis Quaid/Martin Short comedy Innerspace.
The kids loved it, as I said, way more than I did. And they don’t even know it was directed by the Die Hard guy. Alan Silvestri’s score holds up very well. And sure enough, that’s Shane Black as the thinking-man’s commando, before he went on to write the Lethal Weapon series. Black is actually directing the Predator reboot/sequel due out next year. I’m cautiously optimistic after his outing with Gosling and Crowe in The Nice Guys.