Predator 2 does a great job of staying on the right side of the line between being having a lot of fun and simply being ridiculous.

Released on Nov. 21, 1990, the movie is one of the underrated gems of the over-the-top action cycle that began in the previous decade. It moves fast, is buttressed by glossy action sequences and has a good time without ever falling into self-parody – a key element in a franchise with an already oversized premise.

Returning from the first film – John McTiernan's Predator from 1987 – is a species of aliens  who come down to Earth during especially hot years to trophy-hunt for human beings. Not only are these Predators seven feet tall and bursting with muscle, they also sport advanced killing technology, see in the infrared spectrum and wear armor that can turn them invisible.

The first film took place in the jungles of Central America, and Predator 2 immediately adds an entertaining twist to this: the opening shot of the film shows a canopy of trees, but the camera pans upward and we realize we've been looking at Griffith Park, and this new movie is going to take place in Los Angeles.

It's set in a slightly futuristic 1997, when L.A. is undergoing a violent gang war that pits a Columbian drug cartel against its Jamaican nemesis. There's a particularly brutal shootout between the gangs downtown at the opening of the film, but when the ubiquitous loose cannon '80s cop – here named Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) – shows up, he discovers that something much more dangerous has taken part in the action.

Harrigan also realizes that a shadowy government group, headed by an Agent Keyes (Gary Busey), is on the scene looking for this deadly force. As more gang members are killed in the following days, Harrigan starts his investigation, aided by his longtime partners Detectives Archuleta (Ruben Blades) and Cantrell (María Conchita Alonso), along with a cocky young newcomer to their team, Detective Lambert (Bill Paxton).

Soon, these cops start to realize they're in for more than they bargained for. When the Predator kills Archuleta, Harrigan swears vengeance and parleys with the head of the Jamaican gang, who warns him that something not of this world is hunting them. On the heels of this, the Predator shows up and takes the Jamaican gang leader's head for a trophy. The next on the list to fall is the young, cocky Lambert, and Cantrell almost buys it, but the Predator spares her at the last minute when it uses its thermo-vision to see that she's pregnant.

In the movie's final act, Harrigan discovers that Agent Keyes' government team knows all about the Predator and is working to lay a trap. They've set themselves up in the meat-packing district, with special suits that will render them invisible to the alien's heat-vision. They plan to trap it in a refrigerated warehouse and freeze it, not killing it but preserving it for their research. Of course, the trap doesn't go quite as planned, and Harrigan has to bring down the Predator, first in a shootout, and then in hand-to-hand combat aboard its ship.

The '80s were a great decade for action flicks, but by 1990 the genre was threatening to become overripe – by the time of The Last Action Hero in 1993, or Die Hard With a Vengeance in 1995, things would definitely be descending into what Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China might have called the hell of overwrought self-indulgences. Predator 2 not only avoids this trap, it manages to sum up a lot of what made the '80s action movie great.

Directed by Stephen Hopkins, a Jamaican-born Australian director, Predator 2 never really bothers to give us anything other than shootouts and tough-cop banter scenes, a formula that works wonderfully. Except for a brief bit at the end, there are also almost none of the often-annoying attempts at world building that can slow down the pace of sequels. And even at its most ridiculous – the Jamaican gangsters drive around in a car so filled with ganja smoke that we can't even see the occupants – it never becomes overtly silly.

It also benefits from a cast many of whom would immediately enter the Hall of Fame of Los Angeles-based action movies, if there were such a thing. Glover was of course one of the stars of the Lethal Weapon series. Busey – in the midst of a period where he actually made every movie better – not only appeared in the first Lethal Weapon as a memorable bad guy, but also starred in Point Break and Big Wednesday. Maria Conchita Alonso played the love interest in Colors – Dennis Hopper's attempt to understand gang life in the city – and also in The Running Man, which is set in a futuristic L.A. Bill Paxton played a lowlife in The Terminator, and Ruben Blades popped up in The Two Jakes, Jack Nicholson's Chinatown sequel. Character actors Robert Davi and Adam Baldwin showed up in everything from Independence Day to Die Hard to L.A. Law.

All of these appearances give a kind of seven-degrees-of-separation continuity to the film, reminding the viewer of how much of the '80s action movie universe was set in and around Los Angeles, tying together all kinds of films that had essentially one credo: blow up as much stuff and fire off as many guns in as many scenes as possible. If that's a credo you can get down with, it might be worth checking out Predator 2 again, if only just to sink back into the good old days.

Watch the Trailer for 'Predator 2'


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