Blatant Hollywood cash-ins — sequels, spinoffs and the like — get a bad rap. They get ripped for weak plots, bad acting, a lack of continuity and a not-so-hidden desire to profit from a good thing. And while these are all valid criticisms, there’s no rational reason they should be levied on sequels and cash-ins any more than on the original. Let’s face it — it’s not like the original “Speed” had significantly more noble ambitions than “Speed 2: Cruise Control.” So it goes with the “Alien” and “Predator” franchises, two sci-fi steeds that have been flogged so often that their calluses have grown thick enough to bruise the whips.
“Alien vs. Predator” was blasted so thoroughly by film critics upon its release that it failed to do even a fraction of the business that its name-brands should’ve brought about automatically. And it’s a damn shame, too, because “AVP” is a surprisingly watchable monster mash. Though it lacks the hard-fought haunted house tension of the original “Alien” and the delectable “governor vs. nature vs. intergalactic space assassin” appeal of the original “Predator,” “AVP” gets by on a suitably ridiculous — though not totally incoherent — plot and just enough beast-on-beast action to satiate anyone lowbrow enough to get past the title.
Just how does director Paul W.S. Anderson manage to weave together two completely unrelated storylines? A heat-imaging satellite owned by billionaire Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen, “Scream 3”) spots a temple buried beneath miles of ice in Antarctica. Weyland, seeking one last thrill in his old age, gathers a band of adventurers to excavate the mysterious structure. The snarky ice-climber Alexa Woods (Saana Lathan, “Out of Time”), the hunky archeologist Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova, “Under the Tuscan Sun”) and the father-of-two scientist Graeme Miller (Ewen Bremmer, “Black Hawk Down”), among others, fill out his confused but suddenly well compensated band of experts. Of course, Anderson kills off all except Woods almost immediately, and her romp around the temple with a teenage predator participating in a once-in-a-century alien-killing ritual leaves her with graciously few lines.
The film proceeds from there in a mostly predictable, though ultimately enjoyable series of Alien/Predator wrestling matches and coming-from-a-mile-away ambushes. But while the movie exceeds expectations, the DVD leaves a lot to be desired. The “alternate beginning” promised on the packaging is nothing but a poorly executed attention-grabber, mercifully omitted from the actual film. The commentaries — one featuring Anderson, Henriksen and Lathan, the other with some of the movie’s animators and computer whizzes — are mostly unwatchable. The former features inane from-the-set trivia, the latter improves on it only slightly as the filmmakers spend the entire runtime pointing out which sets/creatures are computer generated and which aren’t. Fans of the long-running comic book crossovers will find some goodies, but nothing to get terribly excited about.
“AVP” was unfairly maligned upon its release, the victim of overanxious film critics and impossible-to-please fans of the two excellent sci-fi series. It is a silly, flawed film, but it never feels like it’s dragging on and remains eminently enjoyable throughout. The DVD release is ultimately guilty of the sort of reviews the movie was pinned with. Much to the critics’ chagrin, there are fans of both “Alien” and “Predator” out there, and while these nuts were perhaps unfairly judgmental of the film, they deserve better than this half-baked DVD.
Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Picture/Sound: 3 out of 5 stars
Features: one out of 5 stars