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'Alien vs. Predator' is an enjoyable schlockfest

"Alien vs. Predator" is a movie based on a video game based on two entirely separate sci-fi horror series -- so whatever was interesting in the originals has long been bred out, like double-jointedness. If you go with your expectations in the subbasement, though, you may have a good, cheesy time. This is one schlockfest that may be enjoyed more by casual viewers than by hard-core fans, since writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson breaks with the established mythology of both properties whenever he feels like it. Like it matters.

The movie does take its sweet time to get going. Dying billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) pulls together a team to investigate a giant pyramid that has started heating up under the South Pole. ("Ancient maps show an Antarctica free of ice," says one character, and inquiring minds want to know exactly which maps those are.) Included are rugged archeologist Sebastian (Raoul Bova, Diane Lane's boy toy in "Under the Tuscan Sun"), timid engineer Graeme (Ewan Bremner), ripsnorting Amazonian guide Alexa (Sanaa Lathan), and a mess of characters whose common surname is "Lunchmeat."

To make a long story short, the dreadlocked extraterrestrial hunters introduced in the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film "Predator" apparently have long been using our planet as a sporting arena for battle games with the ETs first seen in the 1979 Ridley Scott classic "Alien." In other words, they're the off-planet equivalent of championship boxers and earth is . . . Atlantic City.

That makes humans the service personnel, which is probably why the opening stretches of "Alien vs. Predator" are so intensely dull: We're hanging out with the hot-dog vendors. Things perk up with the first donnybrook between the two title behemoths, but, still, it's a little like deciding which Rock-'Em Sock-'Em Robot to root for.

The movie finally gets its game on when Alexa strikes a business arrangement with one of the Predators and provides it with a weapon that players of first-person shooters will immediately recognize as a plasma gun. There's even a scene in which the sweet old Pred removes its helmet and you half expect Lathan to give it a kiss, although where she might find a place between his fangs to plant one is open to debate. In general, both alien species exude enough phallic and vulval menace to provide doctoral theses for several graduating classes of Freudians.

Anderson keeps the camerawork shadowy and close in, mostly to hide the zippers on the costumes, but the effect is to leave the audience in the dark. With a PG-13 rating designed to pack in as many teenage boys as possible, "Alien vs. Predator" doesn't muster the crepuscular dread of the original "Alien" and its superior 1986 sequel, nor is it a stark, macho action flick like the first "Predator." But when the Predator presents Alexa with a severed Alien head to use as a shield, you know you've entered the valley of foolproof junk.

Important questions remain. What relation does Henriksen's Charles Bishop Weyland bear to Bishop, the android played by the same actor in James Cameron's "Aliens"? Wouldn't the discovery of the Aliens in 2004 mean they'd be known quantities by the time Sigourney Weaver's Ripley encounters them in the future? And how can Alexa run around in the Antarctic chill with a thin shirt on and not immediately succumb to hypothermia? The boys in the audience will be kept busy with the first two affronts to the catechism. They won't mind the third.

Alien vs. Predator
Written and directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner
At: Boston Common, Fenway, Newton, suburbs
Running time: 87 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (violence, language, horror images, slime and gore)

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