In the lowfalutin spirit of Dracula vs. Frankenstein, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and Freddy vs. Jason (not to mention next summer’s inevitable Benji vs. Garfield), Alien vs. Predator arrives via the most convoluted revenue-stream daisy chain to date: It’s a film based on a video game series that in turn drew inspiration from a string of comic books and novels (!) that were themselves retreads of two separate sci-fi movie franchises, one of which dates back to the ancient age of Carter. With perfunctory battle sequences, cardboard characters, and uncreative scare ’ems, Paul W.S. Anderson’s monster mashup isn’t quite terrible enough to be so-bad-it’s-awesome, but his swift (if forced) plotting and amusingly shoddy costumes mean that there could be worse ways to enjoy air-conditioning.
Set in the present day, the story appears to be only loosely related to any of the films, although the casting and naming of bazillionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen, who played the android Bishop in Aliens and Alien3) suggest either a future timeline-threading or quasi-random in-joke. After his satellites discover a Mayan-Cambodian-Egyptian-style pyramid 2,000 feet below the ice in whitest Antarctica, Weyland organizes a crack team of smart people to investigate, including a ballsy lady ice ranger (Sanaa Lathan), an archaeologist (Raoul Bova) who conveniently has the ability to read Mayan-Cambodian-Egyptian glyphs, and a skinny guy who looks funny when he’s frightened (Ewen Bremner). Once the troop becomes trapped inside the pyramid, the structure transforms into a kooky castle of revolving walls and Chinese-puzzle chambers, shuttling the characters from one peril to the next inside its literalized narrative machinery.
No surprises here with either extraterrestrial race: The Aliens are still flying latex vaginas that invade chests and metamorphose into giant penis-headed goo-drippers; the Predators remain invisi-shielded Boba Fetts on steroids. Anderson’s vidgame-adaptation skills (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil) disappoint when the baddies go head-to-head: Some of the key tussles are barely visible choreographies of black-on-black-in-blackness, thus working as blind radio-play sound-effect brawls of the Predators’ blade-readying ka-chings versus the Aliens’ Lovecraftian ge-schlorps. The best moments are bits of unintentional nerd-camp, provided by this low-budget schlockbuster’s adherence to the Predators’ ’80s-era creature effects in favor of any more contemporary CGI update. After all, there are precious few movies nowadays that offer the spectacle of a dude in a ridiculous rubber suit—complete with dread-like hair extensions—booking it Indiana Jones–style as a roaring fireball blossoms mere millimeters away from his plastic-encased butt.
Had anarchists or Naderites their own newspapers, they would undoubtedly click their mandibles in delight at the movie’s advertising tagline—”No matter who wins . . . we lose”—and drool gobs of acid saliva at the prospect of editorial cartoons casting Bush as warmongering Predator to Kerry’s crypto-French Alien. But opting out of a world-shaking battle would be such a bummer. Better to live by the revelatory bad-assism dealt by Lathan: “We are in the middle of a war,” she warns her fellow totally doomed human. “It’s time to take sides.”