The couple in front of me at Alien vs. Predator were having such a good time, hootin' and hollerin', that I almost felt obligated to lean over and remind them that the movie ain't exactly up to Alien's standards -- or Predator's, for that matter. But why spoil their fun just because somebody spoiled mine? Personally, I wasn't exactly begging for a showdown between these ailing franchises. But as long as writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil) has gone to the trouble of bringing them together, I don't see why he couldn't have studied the originals a little closer to see exactly how they went about saying "boo." The key is restraint, or what scriptwriting gurus call the slow reveal. But how do you slowly reveal critters that have been around since the Reagan administration?
Good question. Anderson holds off as long as he can, introducing us to a team of scientists and adventurers who've been brought to Antarctica, where a pyramid has been discovered 2,000 feet below the surface of the ice. Because the movie's production design is on the cheap side, it's hard to tell whether the pyramid is 200 feet high or two feet high. Let's go with 200 feet, since it turns out to be the happy hunting grounds for the Predators, intergalactic warriors who've stocked it with Aliens, the fiercest foes they could find. Predators-in-training are expected to test their mettle against the reclusive beasts, but as we all know, Aliens have a deep, tentacle-like attachment to Homo sapiens, whom they like to use as hosts. Which is why our intrepid explorers have been lured to Penguin Country: They're the bait.
Bereft of major stars to groove on, I enjoyed Sanaa Lathan's performance. She brings a sweet toughness to Alexa, who's supposed to remind us of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. But Anderson doesn't really have time to develop his characters. He's too busy staging face-offs between Godzilla and Mothra, or whatever their names are. Both species eventually die of overexposure; there are simply too many of them, and we get tired of watching the next one emerge from the shadows. But they're also quite capable of dying at each other's hands, releasing puddles of green goo (Predators) or drips of clear acid (Aliens). This might have been quite terrifying if the Predators didn't look like men in monster suits and if the Aliens, in the years since their last screen appearance, had learned any new tricks. Two sets of jaws! Ooh, scary.
The movie's tagline says it all: "No matter who wins, we lose."