The question you have to ask yourself with regard to Alien Vs. Predator is why 20th Century Fox would hand over to Paul W.S. Anderson two of its biggest movie monster icons? Anderson, the director of the virtually unwatchable Resident Evil and the profoundly abysmal Event Horizon, has a track record as someone with no discernable skill for creating a cogent, suspenseful storyline, as someone for whom an action sequence is a loud, clutter-filled mess of haphazard imagery, as someone for whom actors stubbornly refuse to act.
Maybe Fox felt that the potential box office windfall would be worth the risk and that the project, no matter how bad, wouldn't harm either franchise, particularly since the Predator movies never made it past the first sequel mark and the Alien series has all but run out of options. Maybe it was a coy business move to boost the company's popular "Aliens Vs. Predator" video game franchise, a first-person shooter in which the player can choose to play as an alien, a predator, or a U.S. Marine.
Whatever the reason, Fox's AVP is a movie entirely lacking in the three basic E's: excitement, entertainment and elegance (of the visual kind).
If one bothered to deconstruct the plot fragment by fragment, one would uncover a storyline fraught with huge gaping holes, as though the script had been stored in drawer infested with termites. Several elements contained in AVP seem borne out of pure cinematic convenience. For instance, why does a vast underground pyramid that reconfigures its inner-shape every ten minutes suddenly fail to do so in the movie's final thirty minutes? Did some unseen klutz drop a comb into the pyramid's inner-workings?
In the crisp, cool autumn of 2004, that mysterious pyramid is discovered in Antarctica, two thousand feet below the frosty, freezy ice. Billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henricksen), the "father of robotics," assembles a "crack team of experts" to explore the ruins. What they discover is a hallowed ground where intergalactic Predators send their 13-year-old males to prove themselves against that most irksomely indestructible of creatures, the Alien. (It's kind of like a Bar Mitzvah, except you don't get a $100 Israeli Savings Bond from your Aunt Tillie.) Apparently, this centuries-old rite of passage transpires every hundred years on October 10th, the exact day Weyland's "crack team of experts" find themselves trapped in the pyramid.
Here's what happens next.
The humans -- at least the ones who aren't savagely killed by the arriving crew of Predators -- get face-hugged and spawn aliens. The Predators fight the Aliens. Some of the Aliens die, some of the Predators die. Most all the humans die. When the battle dust clears, one human -- Alexa (Sanaa Lathan) -- and one Predator -- let's call him Cuddles -- remain.
Alexa and Cuddles become comrades in arms, saving each other from almost certain Alien doom. At one point, Cuddles marks Alexa's cheek with Alien acid blood, his way of validating her warrior spirit. She barely flinches, though you have to wonder if she wouldn't have preferred a Hallmark card.
An alien queen -- let's call her Marge, Large Marge -- gets loose. Cuddles and Alexa must stop Large Marge from reaching the surface and turning Earth into one gigantic Alien Nation.
There's a big dumb fight. A big dumb explosion. And a big dumb surprise at the movie's big dumb end.
Alien Vs. Predator
Starring Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova and Lance Henricksen
The audience lets out a big groan and leaves the theatre $9.50 poorer and not a penny entertained.
In a promotional shill for AVP, which ran on the Fox TV network last Thursday, Anderson said he wanted to cast his film with great actors, just as Ridley Scott had done in 1979 with the original Alien. What Mr. Anderson desired and what he achieved are two very different things: There isn't a performance in the movie worth noting, unless one is noting inabilities. Then again, it's not the fault of the actors that they're forced to recited mealy-mouthed lines like "Unexpected things are going to happen" and "That tunnel didn't dig itself!" Even the worst film in the official Alien series -- Alien 3 -- had an unsettling gloomy, doomy style. Anderson's movie is so visually flat and style-free, you wonder if the Queer Eye guys shouldn't have been called in to give it a splash of pizzazz.
Rumor has it another Alien project is in the works, featuring that mainstay of the Alien movies, Sigourney Weaver (whose character of Ripley is currently on clone #89). Let's hope it never gets made. Because Ridley Scott got it right the first time back in 1979.
After all, when you've seen one chest-bursting scene, you've pretty much seen them all.