Battleship (2012) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA rated PG-13 for violence and language
Running time: 131 min.
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano, Alexander Skarsgard, Gregory D. Gadson, Hamish Linklater, Jesse Plemons, Peter MacNicol
Director: Peter Berg
Screenplay: Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber
Review published May 3, 2012
Battleship purports to be based on the classic board game, though outside of the Hasbro name on the introduction (who bought out the game's original company, Milton Bradley), you'd probably never know it from the finished product. It fits in more in the vein of a vacuous Michael Bay-ish CG-infused disaster blockbuster, where any and all infrastructure depicted on the screen 'gits blow'd up real good' for our viewing pleasure. The noise and destruction are ratcheted up so high in this film, one can scarcely remember much of what happens in between, though that may also be in large part due to the mindless nature of the setup and prologue that bookends the carnage.
In the film, an alien force heads to Earth, after we've beckoned them to come after discovering a planet with a similar atmosphere to our own, and begins destroying such things as, oh, portions of Hong Kong, before they lay dominion in the ocean just outside of Hawaii, the location of the satellite dish sending out the beacon, where they are greeted by the Pacific fleet of the good ol' US of A. Taylor Kitsch (The Covenant, Snakes on a Plane) stars as the rogue-ish Lt. Alex Hopper, who suddenly finds himself, after the aliens lay waste to everyone else in command, as the top dog in charge of the sole remaining destroyer in the immediate vicinity, cut off by a giant barrier from those outside of it to help them. They have to stop the aliens from being able to communicate back to their home planet to begin the invasion of Earth, or some such. And all of this is just the preamble to Hopper gaining the courage to ask the stern Admiral Shane (Neeson, Unknown) if he can marry his hot and spunky daughter Sam (Decker, Just Go with It), who has fallen for Hopper after he goes all out in order to secure her a chicken burrito (no lie!).
Director Peter Berg (Hancock, The Kingdom) dishes out the formulaic goods according to a generic template, mish-mashing at least a dozen other films you won't be hard-pressed to call out by name as you encounter each successive rip-off. It's Top Gun flag-waving sentimentality and homoeroticism (which usually goes hand-in-hand with films about the Navy, and the attendance of the seamen at RIMPAC only seems too obvious even if it weren't depicted as the soundtrack blares AC/DC's, 'Hard as a Rock'), stuffed with seemingly never-ending Transformers-ish twisted metal and fiery sparklies, plus that Michael Bay staple of smart-alecky men surrounded by a bevy of Maxim-worthy women who think they're the bee's knees. Taylor Kitsch is the action hunk du jour, though his character produces the least believable aspect of this already preposterous film, which is that such a wayward smartass, who only joined the military because his fed-up brother forces him into it, could ever rise up enough in the ranks to ever find himself in a position to lead a battleship in a major combat scenario.
Though Liam Neeson gets top bill, he's hardly in the film, serving only as a generic hard-as-nails father that has a wobbly-kneed Casanova shaking in his boots for comedy's sake. Pop superstar Rihanna, in her big screen debut, gets a sizable supporting role as the boyish petty officer who still manages to dress like a model, and yet gets no real attention from her lusty male colleagues. She's OK -- no worse than any other component of the film itself. The special effects, which are stellar, are the real star, and the most amazing aspect of it all is just how much money is poured into a film about a known but hardly adored game that no one was ever clamoring to be made into a movie. Nevertheless, much as they were in the recent alien battle films like Battle: LA and Cowboys and Aliens, there isn't much thought or expository detail given to the 'Master Chief'-armored aliens and their motivation, mostly dictated through many prescient observations by people on the ground within minutes, as if they were experts on Earth invasions from extraterrestrial sources.
Needless to say, all of this is pretty far removed from the game, which, truth be told, had no real story to speak of. Outiside of the tube-like shape of the alien missiles, the only portion of the film that captures the game is a lengthy battle sequence between human and alien water forces in which, for reasons that are murkily explained, neither side can see the other, making shots in the dark in the hope that a direct hit can be attained. It's the only time strategy ever comes into play, as the rest of the confrontations revolves around which side can deliver the biggest, loudest, and most fiery levels of destruction that could possibly be mustered on the opposing force. The film does lack any tension, particularly as such things as fear and despair are barely palpable on the faces of the human crew, many of whom quip snarkily as they deliver the wallops like comic book badasses. The lack of humanity among the humans is especially exemplified by the nearly nonexistent sense of mourning by younger Hopper over the loss of his beloved older brother, not to mention his fellow crewmen lost in battle.
Battleship just smacks of wrong-headed studio thinking, looking to things that have worked ('Hey, Hasbro made Transformers and GI Joe, and those films did well, so any of their products will make a ton of money!') and other blockbuster attempts ('People like hot hunks and gorgeous babes holding big weapons at creepy aliens while spouting off one-liners!') 131 minutes, but the script barely fills out 20 minutes worth of storyline, leaving director Berg little to deliver on save for a barrage of quick-cut shots of the best destruction porn money can buy. This one misses the boat.
©2012 Vince Leo