The thing-a-ma-jigs have it out with the whatch-a-ma-call-its — as several humans scurry and scream between — in “Alien Vs. Predator,” the kind of two-for-one dogfight (last repped by “Freddy Vs. Jason”) that usually does more to bury a franchise than revive it. Starless current B-pic brings the uneven but hitherto A-budgeted “Alien” series down a peg or two. (For the “Predators,” moribund since No. 2 in 1990, any news is good news.) Still, in a multiplex season already defined by cheap thrills, fast gains and vertiginous drops, “AVP” should do respectable biz with genre fans ’round the world.
First letdown for some viewers will be fact that this time the sci-fi stays literally Earthbound, without even leaping into the future. Instead, a mere two months from now a satellite belonging to multinational conglomerate Weyland Enterprises detects a heat pocket beneath Antarctica. Further analysis reveals a vast pyramidic structure located some 2,000 feet below the desolate surface.
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Terminally ill yet still-gusty billionaire Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen, the closest thing to a marquee name here) rapidly assembles the usual rainbow team of experts to explore whatever archaeological wonders are down there.
Despite hired expedition field guide Alexa’s (Sanaa Lathan) warnings that they haven’t had time to adequately or safely prepare, Weyland and his bullish right-hand-man Joe Connors (Joseph Rye) insist the troupe depart immediately. This even though a passageway miraculously appears overnight — an ominous sign of foreign life that prompts Lex to make the shrewd comment: “Well…that tunnel didn’t dig itself!” Reaching the subterranean pyramid, the team is dumbfounded to discover it combines aspects of ancient Aztec, Egyptian and Cambodian architecture, and translated hieroglyphics suggest hunting and ritual sacrifices. Turns out long ago the Predators were mankind’s humanoid masters, using people as slaves and incubators for breeding “the ultimate prey.” When that prey got out of hand, the Predators simply nuked the planet. (This flashback seems to have escaped from the “Mummy” franchise, making “AVP” a three-for-one bargain!)
Film fails to explain how the humans managed to bounce back from that scorched-Earth interlude, why the Aliens stayed popsicle-fresh, or what made the Predators decide to stop by again after several millennia’s absence.
Nonetheless, before you can say “last billed goes first,” triggered mechanisms trap the human intruders. Half of them immediately make the unhappy acquaintance of some feisty, tentacled baby Aliens. The remainder soon meet several Predators, those oft-invisible slayers who when gandered look rather like Rastafarians as reinvented by a death-metal album illustrator.
The people here are so drastically overmatched and in typical cannon-fodder fashion make so little impression that it works against the creation of suspense. It’s clear no one will survive here without benefit of extreme narrative contrivance.
Plus, more is definitely less as far as these monsters go: The plentiful scares in earlier “Alien” and “Predator” chapters alike hewed from not knowing just where the few near-unstoppable, teasingly glimpsed nasties might be at any moment in time.
Here, they’re everywhere, in bulk, displayed fully by the second reel. Mystique is further reduced by rendering both parties easier to kill (at least by each other) than they ever were before.
Going from the noisily routine to the ludicrous, “AVP’s” final reels or so are likely to produce howls. However, one could say as much for half this summer’s fantasy behemoths to date. Yes, this movie may be more redolent at times of “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster” than its classier franchise back-chapters. But in the summer of “Catwoman” and “Thunderbirds,” “AVP” ain’t lowering the discourse by any significant degree.
Perfs are as good as they need to be; contribs from all tech departments are up to snuff given what one must assume were comparatively restrained budgetary resources. While not aiming for the kind of strong directorial stamp or distinct visual stylization favored in prior “Aliens,” Paul W.S. Anderson (“Mortal Kombat,” “Resident Evil”) keeps pic looking good and moving fast.
Perhaps notably, this may be the first MPAA rating partially attributed to “slime.”