Earth, 2004. Millionaire Charles Bishop Wayland (Henriksen) heads to Antarctica with a group of assorted experts to investigate a mysterious pyramid buried beneath the ice. Little do they know that it's a Predator-designed hunting park where Aliens are free to roam.
Few franchises boast taglines so indicative as those of the Alien saga. Ridley Scott's chilling first instalment intoned, "In space, no-one can hear you scream" - surely the most alluring horror tag ever - while James Cameron's action-classic sequel offered the no-mess, gravelly bark of "This time it's war." Then Fincher's grim, part three mis-step delivered the brutal cough of "The bitch is back", with Jeunet's sloppy Resurrection apologetically muttering, "Witness the resurrection." Consider, then, the strap for Paul W S Anderson's kinda-prequel: "Whoever wins - we lose." Yes, you guessed it, the "we" here refers to the audience. Or, at least, an audience which doesn't entirely consist of freshly pubescent boys.
Naturally, for those who still have a bit of freshly pubescent boy, or even tomboy, in us (so to speak), there is a twinge of a thrill at the prospect of seeing the rastaphibian hunters of the Predator movies getting scrap-happy with H R Giger's acid-drooling xenomorphs. And Anderson's been smart enough to keep the cool species-pairing concept first suggested by the Alien Vs. Predator comic book: Predators breed Aliens in order to hunt them, then some unwitting humans get stuck in the middle. Neat.
Problem is, the originals were savvy enough to make sure their human element was something we could latch onto, whether it was watching an Arnie-at-his-peak outgunned and outmuscled by a mostly unseen supernatural foe, or chewing fingernails for Ripley as her destiny became agonisingly entwined with that of her nightmarish nemeses. Plus, those films offered a group dynamic which amped the suspense as the extraterrestrial stalkers picked their prey off one by one.
But Anderson is a director in a perpetual state of rush, so blindly keen to shove his early-teen audience into the front row of this intergalactic royal rumble that he's forgotten the dramatic importance of building anticipation - and along the way denied us the small luxury of any characters. Sanaa Lathan's plucky guide is nothing more than a shrug-worthy Ripley-lite, Lance Henriksen's Company-man Weyland only serves as an overstretched plot-umbilical to the other Aliens, and poor Ewen Bremner's stumbly science-bod is a mere patsy for a string of sick jokes.
It's tempting to see Anderson's choice of setting - a gargantuan, Indiana Jones-style box of tricks, complete with sliding walls, trapdoors and shifting blocks - as an attempt to distract us from the dearth of humanity. Either that, or proof he-s just played too many platform games.
So, what of the xeno-smackdown, then? Well, even that's something of a disappointment. It's certainly a treat to watch one Predator dismissively de-face one of his toothy enemies with a single claw swipe in one scene, while the portrayal of the Alien Queen as a screeching version of Jurassic Park's T-Rex set loose on the Antarctic surface briefly pinches the adrenal glands.
But, pressured to deliver a kid-friendly rating, the director reduces his clash sequences to a morass of clumsy cuts and juddery mis-framing; you're pushed so close to the action, it's hard to see what's going on.
It's obvious Anderson has great love for the franchises he's cross-breeding, and he peppers the movie with little in-jokes and knowing winks. But watching him reference the likes of Scott, Cameron and McTiernan is like watching a loud-mouth kid trying to join in with the grown-ups: initially entertaining, then embarrassing, and finally just plain annoying. Unless, of course, you're a loud-mouth kid yourself.
Fans beware - your fave two sci-fi franchises have been stripped of all their guile and maturity. It may offer the occasional treat, but AvP is sadly devoid of any real thrills.