Sunday, August 15, 2004

We should have seen “Alien vs. Predator” coming the minute Freddy laid a hand, er knife, on Jason.

The success of last year’s low-rent duel opened the floodgates for “AVP,” another battle royal meant to wring more money out of two expired franchises.

That might sound harsh,but since 20th Century Fox refused to screen the film for critics a pinch of cynicism isn’t out of order.

Once upon a time, the “Alien” features set the standard for modern science fiction. And “Predator” (1987) became one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s better films, although its second-rate 1990 sequel left thoughts of a trilogy in the dust.

Bringing the beasts together should have been a seamless task: The two species hook up on some strange planet, they go a few rounds and we all go home no worse for the wear — or, the producers could have used the limited-series comic book of the same name for inspiration.

But no, the powers that be of “A vs. P” go so far as to rewrite ancient history to set the violence in motion.

The story begins not in the future, a la “Alien,” but in the present where a dying business tycoon named Charles “Bishop” Weyland (Lance Henriksen) assembles an international crack exploration team to dig beneath Antarctica.

Ah, a wink to the fans.

See, the android Mr. Henriksen played in the second and third “Alien” features was named Bishop.

Thanks, folks. Next time, try living up to the source material.

Weyland’s experts have picked up fresh heat patterns 2,000 feet below the surface which reveals the outline of an undiscovered pyramid, and he sees the potential discovery as a stab at immortality. However, after arriving at the dig site, the international posse discovers that someone beat them to it. A perfectly cylindrical hole leading straight to the pyramid has been dug, seemingly overnight.

Shouldn’t someone call for backup at this point?

The explorers shimmy down the hole only to trap themselves in the ever-shifting pyramid, the film’s one inspired feature.

Soon, long-sleeping alien creatures and Predator monsters from outer space converge on the scene and turn the explorers into mincemeat.

None of the characters beyond Alexa (Sanaa Lathan, a bland but capable Ripley stand-in) impress us, so seeing the creatures pick them off hardly merits a second glance.

Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson’s script would have us believe that the film’s hieroglyphics expert pieces every clue from the ruins with pinpoint accuracy. So he choreographs the few fight sequences with claustrophobic cameras, which deplete the excitement.

Worst of all, “Alien’s” darker themes, such as the evil corporation which sabotages the original’s flight crew, get nary a mention.

The two movie monsters, though, remain superior killing machines and hold the screen better than anyone in “AVP.”

Compare them to this derelict rehash and they appear even more praiseworthy — and worth leaving alone for posterity.


WHAT: “Alien vs. Predator”

RATING: PG-13 (violent battle sequences, monster gore and coarse language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Production design by Richard Bridgland. Visual effects supervised by John Bruno.

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes



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