Dir:Paul W S Anderson. US. 2004. 101mins.

Withnew backgrounds but the same old bad attitudes, two of 20th Century Fox'ssci-fi icons go head to head in AVP (as the marketing folks havehelpfully abbreviated it), a franchise face-off that looks set to consolidateHollywood's latest genre trend. The match-up, enthusiastically brought to thescreen by British writer-director Paul W S Anderson, feels more like theaction-oriented Predator movies than the insidiously creepy Alienfilms. Yet it delivers its thrills with little of the style or tension thatdistinguished the better entries from each individual franchise. So while brandrecognition and teen-friendly ratings - PG-13 in the US - could lead to somebig openings, AVP may still struggle to pull in really broad audiencesover the long term.

Thecore audience of teen-plus fanboys certainly turned out in strength for thefilm's very wide US opening this weekend, asthe $60m feature took an estimated $38.3m from 3,395 screens.

It puts AVP oncourse to out-gross last summer's surprisingly successful franchise duel Freddyvs Jason (which opened on the corresponding August weekend and went on togross $82.2m domestically) as well as most of the individual Alien and Predatorpictures.

Thedrop-off in domestic takings is likely to be steep, but AVP couldproduce some equally impressive openings in international markets (it hitsEurope in October and November), where all four Alien films didparticularly well.

Theupshot will probably be a sequel - the likely star pops its ugly little head upin AVP's final shot - and a rash of other 'vs' projects from studioslooking to revive dormant franchises.

ThoughAliens and Predators have already met in video games and comicbooks, Anderson (who last directed Resident Evil) comes up with anintriguing background for the latest contest, set on present day Earth.

Thehistory is revealed slowly over the film's first half, but its consequence is avast pyramid hidden under the Antarctic ice cap. The pyramid is discovered by awealthy industrialist (action vet Henriksen, the only cast member from earlierfranchise instalments), who recruits a team of scientists, led by tough cookiefemale explorer Lex (Lathan, from Out Of Time and Blade), toinvestigate. Inside the pyramid, the scientists get caught between a gang ofPredators who have dropped in from outer space and a family of Aliens justhatched by an imprisoned alien queen.

AVP's first half hour movesslowly and draws attention to some ropey dialogue and unconvincing acting. The scientists'entry into the pyramid - which reconfigures like a giant puzzle every 10minutes - sets them up, as one character puts it, like 'rats in amaze,' a situation that recalls the shadowy space ship corridors of the Alienfilms.

Therevelation of the creatures' back-story leads to the script's most interestingtwist, though it's a twist that comes too late to add much narrative momentum.

Apparentlyin emulation of Ridley Scott's first, classic Alien film, Anderson holdsoff on revealing the creatures themselves. It's an odd decision, given that themajority of viewers will have seen at least one of the earlier films (all ofwhich are perennial video favourites) from each franchise.

Whenthey do make their entrance, the Aliens are basically old school, familiar intheir slimy black look and in their behaviour (plenty of face huggers and a fewstomach eruptions, though not quite as gory as they used to be). The Predatorshave had a bit of a makeover and now have fancier armour and more dreadlocks.

Theone-on-one fights between Predators and Aliens are mostly rather unexcitingslugfests, often shot and edited as a blur of flying bodies. The lack ofingenuity and sheer force in these scenes will be a disappointment to genrefans who have been waiting eagerly to see these classic creatures square off.

Thehuman characters are bland, another disappointment given the relative strengthin this area of the Alien films. Lathan works hard to give Lex somepersonality, but the written character doesn't come close to the presence ofSigourney Weaver's unforgettable Ripley. Other, less interesting characters areplayed by Italian star Bova (La Finestra Di Fronte) and Scottish actorBremner (Sixteen Years Of Alcohol, Trainspotting).

Thefilm's effects - the majority of them physical rather than CG, according topress materials - are efficiently convincing and the sets, most of themconstructed in a Prague studio, are believable if not particularly imaginative.The production seems to have got good value for its reported $70m budget.

Prodcos: DavisEntertainment Company, Brandywine
US dist:
20thCentury Fox
Int'l dist:
Exec prods:
Wyck Godfrey, Thomas M Hammel, Mike Richardson
JohnDavis, Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill
Anderson, from a story byDan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett
Prod des:
Richard Bridgland
Visual effects supervisor:
John Bruno
Creature effects:
Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr
Main cast:
Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner