Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Battleship" (2012)

Starring Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna and Liam Neeson
Written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber
Directed by Peter Berg
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 131 Minutes

Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is a loser.  He has no job, no money, and no direction.  One night, while trying to impress a girl at a bar, he's arrested breaking into a convenience store.  Afterward, his brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), sick of Alex's crap, forces him to join the United States Navy, hoping it will give him some discipline and direction.

Six years later, Hopper is a lieutenant aboard the USS John Paul Jones.  He's dating that young woman, Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker) who just happens to be the daughter of Admiral Terrence Shane (Liam Neeson) who commands the Navy's Pacific fleet.  He wants to marry her, but he's afraid of the admiral.  And despite becoming a lieutenant in the Navy, he hasn't managed to curb his poor character problems.  He's stubborn and quick to anger.

While out on maneuvers during some international naval exercises, alien spacecraft crash down in the middle of the Pacific near Hawaii.  A massive forcefield is erected, cutting off the Hawaiian islands and Hopper's ship from the rest of the world.  Trapped alone, with the captain and executive officer killed, Hopper must take command of the John Paul Jones and wage a dangerous battle against the superior alien forces before they can signal their home planet for reinforcements and rain destruction down on mankind.

I'll just say this right up front: "Battleship" is a profoundly stupid movie.  It's full of wild, over-the-top destruction, strange characters and various hard-rock soundtracks.  It's not designed to be taken very seriously, which is fine by me.

This film has exactly one clever sequence: the John Paul Jones, with its radar out of commission, makes use of NOAA tsunami warning buoys to track the enemy on a grid.  They call out grid coordinates like C-8 in order to get a hit... or a miss.  The crew must essentially play a game of 'Battleship' against their alien foe, trying to guess his location and when to fire.  It's the film's most intriguing and original sequence, and the only time the film has anything to do with its boardgame namesake.

I kind of feel bad for Taylor Kitsch.  I'm sure he's a nice enough fellow, but this is the second of two big sci-fi flops he starred in this year.  It's not even that I dislike him.  He hasn't displayed much range, I'm not sure that he'll ever become a great actor, but he's not bad.  His career might need some work, though, after this.

His character here isn't particularly deep.  He's your average bad boy who needs to learn how to lead, and he eventually does so by saving the world.  Kitsch works fine enough with his costars, but we rarely get any sense of these characters as real people.  Most of the cast is just there to shout orders and status reports.  None of them really have any personality beyond their assigned roles.  But then, the aim of this movie is not to present serious drama, it's to blow shit up.

And it does that, in spades.  There are tons and tons of pretty explosions in this film, and the special effects are shiny and first-rate.  Though, there's a level of "unreality" to it all.  The whole film has a very artificial sheen to it, which both distances us as an audience and also helps remind us just how over the top and ridiculous it is.  In fact, the film's climax is so outlandish and absurd that I couldn't help but laugh out loud at it.  And, of course, the whole thing is set to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," which only helps the ridiculousness.

There's value here in watching all the pretty explosions; the film is decently entertaining for what it is.  But I can't help but wonder, why in the hell are there aliens in this movie? The film's best sequence is one in which the aliens don't even really matter, so why didn't Hasbro just make a real naval warfare movie?  What do the aliens add to this film?  I guess they are interestingly designed; they're probably some of the most human-looking aliens we've seen on screen, which is intriguing, but we learn so little about them that they also don't matter as characters or as antagonists.