When I was knee-high, one of my favorite comic issues was the What If Thor Battled Conan the Barbarian? title in the original What If…? series. Marvel’s cute alternate-dimension spin-off may have spawned some pretty weak product, overall, but No. 39 was a cherished read. I’m not sure if it was the story’s titillating homoeroticism, its deltoid aesthetic, or its abundance of flowing male locks, but something about that issue fascinated me. It also nurtured my embryonic inner fanboy and gave me an appreciation for cross-over storytelling — as penny-dreadful cheap as that type of storytelling usually is. So when the first Alien vs. Predator movie emerged a few years back (a hybrid effort which also took a detour through the comic realm), I felt compelled to go see it despite the fact that it had all the promise of Ali Lohan. And like most fans of Alien and Predator who’d bought tickets to AvP on an act of faith, I grouched about how roundly it lived down to expectation for a while, then forgot about it.
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem won’t erase the bad taste of AvP from our collective memory. It’s an improvement over the first movie, but it’s the kind of improvement that doesn’t add up to much, like installing granite countertops and a whirlpool bath in a tar-covered pile that was condemned years back. Foundations like dialogue and characterization and sequence are too flimsy — and to hell with the it’s just an action movie justification, because there’s more than one class of action movie, and the AvP films, with such an impressive pedigree, ought to succeed better at what they set out to do. Alien, Aliens and Predator are Class A popcorners that transcend genre and entertain us so well because they aim a little higher than just entertaining us. Movies in this category have more than enough (or just enough) script and production value to support the wonderful mayhem we’ve traded our ducats to see, and make everything come alive around it. Class B actioners may lack in one or more production departments, and are often sillier than a lopsided smile, but their energy and charm and teeth-shattering turbulence carry them along so beautifully that all the holes in the foundation are caulked and the structure stands proud (slot flicks like Tremors, Anaconda and Reign of Fire into Class B, if we’re keeping tabs). And then there’s Class C, the category where action movies go to die. It’s populated by yawns like the first AvP film and other lukewarm efforts that lack juice, in part because of inept filmmaking, and in part because the action sequences — the core component of the film — fart around rather than detonate brilliantly onscreen.
I think most viewers up for some snappy sci-fi ass-kickery would be thrilled if Requiem had the balls and energy to make its way into Class B (flawed in many ways, but bloody entertaining). I’m not sure it does. In fact, I could easily substitute Phillip’s review of AvP here, minus the plot outline, but (a) that would be too lazy even for me, and (b) like I said above, Requiem is a step up from the first movie, if only by millimeters. The action sequences don’t wheeze, at least, and the effects are more than passable (the brothers Strause, who co-directed with half-hearted boners, are better known as special effects wizards). The Predator has a fair amount of carapacious solidity onscreen, and the aliens’ nesting maws are as real as ever. But you can hide a lot of cheap latex in the shadows, and Requiem’s lighting (courtesy of Director of Photography Daniel C. Pearl, I assume) is more clumsy and muddy than artfully dim. Lighting design seems to have been waylaid altogether, somewhere, with this one, but I’ll move on before I get taken to task for discussing lighting in Just an Action Movie.
The set-up: an alien-infested spacecraft dives into the Colorado mountains and releases acid-drippers into the woods. Down comes a Predator to clean up the mess and flay a few human trophies while he’s tracking the eggheads, who in turn are tracking podunk mountain town inhabitants for feast and fodder. The World’s Most Forgettable Characters fighting to survive the invasion include a handful of The O.C. rejects (except for the main O.C. type, played by Johnny Lewis, who may actually have been, at one point, on The O.C.), a bland town sheriff (John Ortiz), and a Ripley stand-in named Kelly O’Brien (Reiko Aylesworth). Like Ripley, Kelly is taut, maternal, good with a gun, and trained to operate heavy equipment. I’ll stop the comparison there because that’s where the comparison ends, despite the filmmakers’ best efforts to homage us into giving a fuck about their product.
The scenes that are supposed to galvanize us most include aliens attacking teens in a high school swimming pool, homeless people meeting their maker in a sewer, the Predator taking out the town power-plant, and a handful of Alien-on-Predator arrangements that throw the odd punch but aren’t enough to sustain the movie. Especially a movie with dialogue so inept that what’s said onscreen doesn’t even deliver good B-movie entertainment in the way bad dialogue often can; here, the characters frequently speak at each other without actually responding to what’s been said (Woman in Labor in Maternity Ward During a Blackout: “When are the lights coming back on?” Nurse: “The power’s out. We’re operating on emergency generators.”). Or they utter contradictory nonsense in a single line (Sheriff to Deputy via Radio: “Keep in touch, otherwise I’ll see you in the morning.”). That’s probably too much focus on dialogue for Just an Action Movie, though, so let it lie.
There’s barely anything here to recommend, but I’ll try real hard for the diehard fan before giving up and bowing out with a solid pan. On the plus side, Requiem sports an actual alien/predator hybrid, who clomps around the small Colorado town, alpha-dog to a ravenous rabble of newborn aliens. This small-town setting is another new feature; whereas no one can hear you scream in space, the deep jungle or the Antarctic, a few shrill hollers invoke the National Guard and all manner of chaos when extraterrestrial fiends overrun residential streets. Requiem also amps it up by throwing kids and pregnant mommies in the way of the monsters, and there are enough exploding guts to satisfy the gorehounds. The most entertaining moments aren’t those when alien meets human chest, but (like the billing promises) when Predator rumbles with his prey. Some of these sequences want to be visceral, but they’re shot a little too dark, and edited a little too ADD, and surrounded by a little too much couldn’t-care-less filmmaking to really lift off. Like the first AvP movie, Requiem’s biggest defect is its criminal lack of tension. — Ranylt Richildis
(Originally published on Pajiba.com on December 28, 2007.)