May 15, 2012

Battleship

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Battleship

SCIENCE FICTION/ACTION:

United States, 2012

U.S. Release Date:

2012-05-18

Running Length:

2:11

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Tadanobu Asano, Liam Neeson, Peter MacNicol, Gregory D. Gadson

Director:

Peter Berg

Screenplay:

Erich Hoeber & Jon Hoeber

Cinematography:

Tobias A. Schliessler

Music:

Steve Jablonsky

U.S. Distributor:

Universal Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Let me start this review off on a positive note. Battleship is in 2-D, not 3-D, so there are no issues with motion blur, low light levels, and general eye discomfort. There are some nice establishing shots of Hawaii; I might want to go there if I wasn't afraid aliens would suddenly show up and ruin my vacation. Peter Berg, the actor-turned-director known in some quarters for hand-held camera work, found a tripod somewhere. And Liam Neeson, with his bank account nicely padded by this and Wrath of the Titans, can go back to using his considerable talent in worthy projects.

When it was announced that a major motion picture would be made based on the board game "Battleship," I had trouble containing my amusement. "What's next?" I wondered. "Solitaire?" Yet the more I considered, the more I realized the basic premise of "Battleship" could work within the context of a movie. Visions of a Tom Clancy-like thriller rattled around in my head. A dog-and-cat duel with a Das Boot flavor. So what do we get? Independence Day meets Pearl Harbor with a very strong Transformers influence. Attentive viewers will also catch steals from Alien, Star Trek (J.J. Abrams reboot iteration), Titanic, and about a hundred other sources.

Battleship has the IQ of a rutabaga and doesn't require much more intelligence than that to watch. Despite spending copious amounts of time with back story and so-called character development, it's really all about the explosions. The recipe for maximum enjoyment is simple. Settle down in your seat and take a 30-minute nap. Wake up when you hear a loud noise. Stay awake until the flashes and bangs subside then take another nap. Repeat for the next 90 minutes. Then go home. Or, better yet, dust off an old copy of "Battleship" and play it with friends and family. In the time it takes to travel to and from the theater, buy tickets, and view Battleship, you can play that game plus "Monopoly" and "Risk."

Battleship begins with an intolerable 35 minutes of setup. During the course of this segment, I found myself thinking: Please hurry up and get to the aliens. Then they arrive and, predictably, my train of thought changed to: Please go back to the setup. So it goes. The aliens in Battleship are typical antisocial movie xenomorphs. They exist exclusively to destroy things. There's no motivation. They just show up, play a giant game of "Battleship" (yes, they find a way to shoehorn in a few rounds), help our hero to grow up, then fall prey to a deus ex machina. They are clearly inspired by the bad guys in Independence Day and Skyline. In Transformers, for all its problems, at least there was a reason for the big bad robots to do what they were doing - not that I could tell you what it was. That's not the case here.

Something curious happens to the space ships/attack craft during the course of Battleship. Maybe it's the salt water. Maybe it's the air. Maybe it's careless script writing. At the outset, the aliens' crafts are damn near invulnerable. By the end, however, they're more brittle than paper maché and as fragile as a Ford Pinto. This sort of (lack of) internal consistency makes Battleship a less than rewarding experience. Who cares if the good guys win if the rules of the game have to be changed midway through to give them the victory? That's called cheating.

Battleship begins by introducing us to brothers Lieutenant Annoying (Taylor Kitsch - can you think of a better name?) and Commander Stick-Up-His-Ass (Alexander Skarsgard, trying without success to suppress his accent). The former is trying to steal a burrito to impress Hot Blond At The Bar (Brooklyn Decker). Skip forward six years. Annoying is preparing to marry Hot Blond but, in order to do so, he has to ask permission from her dad, Admiral Zeus (Liam Neeson). This happens against the background of an international peace building activity of Naval wargames and soccer. The Japanese win on the sports field but one senses they won't be winning in the water. Then the aliens show up and spoil the party. They seal off Hawaii and the nearby ocean, locking most of the fleet out of an impenetrable dome. Three ships remain inside. Annoying gets his first command when everyone of a higher rank on his destroyer ends up dead. Meanwhile, Hot Blond becomes involved in a superfluous land-based subplot that pairs her with Token Disabled Veteran (Gregory D. Gadson). This serves two purposes: showing off the actress' legs and adding to the bloated running length.

Let's play a game of figuring out which name doesn't belong: Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Rhianna, Liam Neeson. If you picked Neeson, you win the prize. He's a real actor, not a model or a singer or a guy with nice bone structure. To be fair, Kitsch has a decent number of credits to his name - he was a lead in the TV version of Friday Night Lights (where he connected with Berg) and he was the title character in the much-maligned John Carter. His persona in Battleship is so irritating that he succeeds where the aliens fail - providing someone on-screen to hate.

When it comes to the humans in Battleship, there's an outbreak of Transformers disease. They don't matter. They're not even interesting enough to be called stereotypes. They exist because the filmmakers don't have the balls to assemble 70 minutes of special effects, explosions, and disaster footage and call it a "movie." I guess the only reason why Neeson was hired is so viewers would realize at least one person isn't a CGI creation. Of course, his role is no more than a glorified cameo, so don't get too excited about him opening a can of whoop-ass on the aliens. He doesn't even get to give a Bill Pullman speech. His biggest moment is when he hangs up on the Secretary of Defense.

Battleship is a true summer movie. It exists because this is what studios think movie-goers want as the weather warms in the northern hemisphere. People go because the marketing and advertising tease them into thinking they're going to see a film rather than a bunch of faux actors playing second fiddle to creepy looking, functionally challenged mechanical things created on someone's computer. Every year, we get a few productions like this, where frontal lobotomies enhance the experience and long trips to the rest room and snack counter break up the monotony. Battleship is dumb, noisy, and flashy. Expecting anything else would be foolish.

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