Chocolate-and-peanut-butter franchise mash-up corrects its most recent predecessor’s PG-13 rating, but offers up neither originality nor knockout execution.
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is a quintessential example of modern-day, “because-we-can” studio filmmaking — green lit and indeed wholly conceived not to satisfy any particular creative notions, but just to wring undiscriminating, genre-fan dollars from characters for which the studio, in this case 20th Century Fox, already owns the rights.
I perhaps can’t speak expertly to the movie’s placement within the canon of the extended Alien vs. Predator brand (e.g., the comics, novelizations and videogames), but as a big screen hybrid of two touchstone, extraterrestrial-influenced action franchises — highlights of which include Ridley Scott’s seminal work of science fiction and horror, Alien; James Cameron’s adrenalized masterpiece follow-up, Aliens; and John McTiernan’s thrill-of-the-hunt, tropic-set Predator, about an otherworldly warrior stalking and getting stalked by the future governor of California — this wan exercise in homage induces chiefly sighs. The title creatures are trotted out, blood is spilt, and roughly an hour and a half later one is free to go on their way and continue their day, unencumbered by anything as novel as a strong reaction to the movie, one way or another.
The story unfolds over 24 hours in the small-sized, central Colorado town of Gunnison, where a Predator’s ship crash lands after an on-board fracas, and several Aliens scamper away. Receiving a distress beacon, another Predator shows up to aide his comrade and track down the offending creatures. Naturally, this means very bad things for pretty much the entire populace of Gunnison. That includes Sheriff Eddie Morales (John Ortiz) and his old friend Dallas (Steven Pasquale), back in town from a recent prison stint. Meanwhile, Dallas’ younger brother Ricky (Johnny Lewis, of the forthcoming One Missed Call) is caught up in a love triangle with high school student Jesse (Kristen Hager) and her jerky jock boyfriend Dale (David Paetkau, sneering enough to earn points as an honorary Busey). These characters eventually cross paths with young mother Kelly (24’s Reiko Aylesworth), a returning soldier, and her 9-year-old daughter Molly (Ariel Gade).
After a Predator/Alien battle blows out Gunnison’s electricity and leaves the local power station in shambles, a National Guard battalion is summoned — apparently operating under the Dominos Pizza dictum of delivery, because they arrive in less than 30 minutes, only to get dutifully slaughtered and conveniently bequeath their equipment to our main band of survivors, who then quarrel about the best method of survival and/or escape.
The movie’s screenplay, by Shane Salerno (John Singleton’s writing partner on 2000’s Shaft remake), is full of generic and/or stilted dialogue, and the characters are fairly thinly sketched. Ortiz is mightily ineffectual as Morales, and while part of that is in the character (there’s supposed to be a fraternal power struggle between he and Dallas), neither the film’s script nor direction is smart enough to make full, interesting use of that, leaving him twisting in the wind and audiences wondering how this guy came to be sheriff in the first place. The script is no great shakes in terms of its narrative plotting either; in lieu of fresh or imaginative staging, it evidences its… umm, “borrowed” imagination through tangential set-ups to showcase no fewer than four alien-bursting-through-stomach sequences.
Still, I suppose the movie serves as a successful mulligan for 2004’s Antarctic-set Aliens vs. Predator in a couple important respects. Most notably, of course, is the film’s rating, in line with the R-rated origins of its source franchises. This, combined with a generally healthy sense of mayhem (e.g., kids in peril, plus who dies and when) give the film a few moments of fleeting, pleasant, mild surprise.
The problem remains, however, that there’s nothing at all nearly exceptional about Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. It necessarily follows that a good bit of the movie’s action is of somewhat murky design, given the difficulties of CGI rendering and to-scale battle, but co-directors Colin and Greg Strause, visual effects supervisors making their respective feature film directorial debuts, muck up most of even the cheapest thrills of catharsis.
First, they shoot the film, along with cinematographer Daniel Pearl - who lensed both the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its evocative 2003 re-imagining, but also this summer’s wretched Captivity - in too-tight close-up, almost to the point that it feels like it’s already been cropped for its full-frame television presentation. The brothers Strause also have a difficult time both establishing the size, number and strengths of particularly the Aliens, as well as cross-cutting with respect to the action. The end result is a climactic battle that elicits more indifference than excitement.
There’s still a residual sheen of affection for the best moments of each of these franchises that makes the excitement of seeing them in action again tickle the cortex a bit. But there’s no compelling story here and no top-shelf, bravura execution, so why shell out extra money for nostalgia’s sake when your own DVD player can provide the same kick?