If it's not the best formula ever devised for suspense films, it surely must be in the top three: A group of strangers are gathered together for an unknown reason and then are killed off one at a time by an invisible presence. They figure out what they have in common " in this case, they are all, with one odd exception, professional and highly trained killers " but the nature of the threat against them is harder to determine.
In "Predators," which director Nimród Antal ("Armored") and producer Robert Rodriguez ("Grindhouse") call the true sequel to 1987's "Predator," eight people awake from a drugged state while in free fall. After landing, they gather and figure out that they're on Planet Whazzit, a game preserve in which they will be the game. To make their war of wits with the hunters more even, each of them, if packing weaponry when s/he was abducted, still carry the heat. Only Stans (Walton Goggins, TV's "Justified"), who was on death row, and Edwin (Topher Grace, "Valentine's Day"), a nerdy physician, arrive unarmed.
Royce (Adrien Brody, "Splice") is an American mercenary. Survival is his only concern, but if you think even sci-fi action films should contain at least a smidgeon of worthwhile human content, the question of will he or won't he make a connection with another person provides a possible character arc for him. Of course, another of the abductees is Isabelle (Alice Braga, "Blindness"), a CIA sniper, so you can figure it out for yourself.
The rest of the ad hoc team is made up of Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov, "Righteous Kill"), Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien, "Gigantic"), Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") and Cuchillo (Danny Trejo, "Fanboys").
Along the way, they meet up with Noland (Laurence Fishburne, TV's "CSI"). Fishburne slyly slips in a wickedly comic performance as a guy who's been able to survive for several hunting seasons by being obsessive and nuttier than a Pecan Log Roll at Stuckey's.
One of the variations to the kill-'em-off-one-at-a-time formula is the addition of the traitor in the group who is working against the interests of the team as a whole. If you remember the movies based on Alistair MacLean's novels " "The Guns of Navarone" and "Where Eagles Dare" " you know how effective this device can be. With a little more practice, novice screenwriters Alex Litvak and Michael Finch will realize that this works best when the possibility of subversion within is introduced early on.
The characters prove their worth " or lack of same " through action rather than jabber, of which there is surprisingly little. Brody is an acceptable action hero, and he's a good enough actor to keep you in doubt as to what he will finally decide to do.
It's all very familiar, and it's ultimately up to you as to whether or not you want to see this story told yet again.
If you do, "Predators" works pretty well for what it is. "Doug Bentin