It’s not often I get taken in and totally bamboozled by a trailer, but that sure was the case here. If they gave an Oscar for Most Misleading Preview, Battle: Los Angeles would be a lock in 2012.
The promise was a large-scale, state-of-the-art alien-invasion extravaganza. The reality is a picture that manages to make a fight for the survival of the human race seem tiresome. It’s not so much a movie as a massive misappropriation of funds.
How does Battle: Los Angeles blow? Let me count the ways: The first and biggest problem is Christopher Bertolini’s screenplay. For the life of me, I can’t fathom anybody in the business reading this and not collapsing in laughter. The concept appears to be a mashup of The Hurt Locker, War of the Worlds and every old-school World War II film ever made, minus any trace of humor or character development.
It all begins with TV news coverage of an imminent meteor shower. The talking heads note in passing that objects hurtling toward Earth are routinely picked up by astronomers long before they get anywhere near the planet; these just sort of appeared from nowhere. Of course, they’re really a fleet of battleships — and, of course, in real life they’d quickly be identified as such. Showing us what’s going on in space is what satellites and the Hubble telescope do.
The script attempts to divert our attention from this incongruity by cutting to a Marine base where S. Sgt. Nantz — played by a way-out-of-his-element Aaron Eckhart — is hanging up his helmet after 20 years of service. Apparently he’s scarred by something that happened during his last mission, though Bertolini never makes it clear what that was.
The next thing you know, alien ships have crashed into the ocean near the usual major cities, popped back up and begun unleashing hell. Most of L.A. is shortly a murky CGI combo of rubble and flame. Nantz is called back in. The fate of humankind is at stake. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation. So it’s touching — but a tad implausible — when Nantz’s platoon’s assignment isn’t engaging the generic, big-headed enemy with advanced technology. Instead, it’s rescuing a handful of civilians trapped behind the lines in Santa Monica.
We view the shaky-cam action through the eyes of the platoon’s members as they move block by block (Topical-Middle-East- Parallel alert!), blasting unfriendlies on their way to and then from their destination. None of the platoon’s members have personalities, unfortunately, and none of the action is particularly interesting, inventive or visually striking. It is loud, however. If they gave an Oscar for Most Mind-Numbing Noise — well, you get the idea.
The writer outdoes himself when it comes to the film’s clunky, retro, hoo-rah dialogue. It’s harder on the ears than the cacophony of constant explosions, and at points it attains a level of corniness capable of eliciting the only laughs within a mile of the movie. I mean, really, what is the point of going for faux-documentary realism and then making everybody talk like characters in a bad John Wayne film?
Director Jonathan Liebesman clearly has watched too much Michael Bay and lacks the style or vision needed to compensate for the script’s shortcomings. At times the action is incomprehensible; when it’s not, it is for the most part just boneheaded sci-fi battle boilerplate. Liebesman’s primary achievement consists of borrowing bits and pieces from better films — such as Independence Day, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, Signs and District 9 — and somehow not getting sued.
I won’t tell you how the movie ends, of course. Let’s just say it’s not with you feeling you got your money’s worth.
* Running time: 116 min.
* Rated: PG-13
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