Battle: Los Angeles
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
I try to be constructive in my movie reviews. Writing scathing criticisms can be fun, but, call me a nice guy, I like to pick things apart in workshop fashion. Now and then I succumb to the temptation of a good insult, but for the most part I try to stay positive in explaining why certain elements of certain films don’t work. If I took that approach to Battleship, I wouldn’t be able to write the review. The only thing saving this film from becoming the next Battlefield Earth is the fact that it received such little pre-release hype.
Though theoretically based on Hasbro’s classic Battleship board game, the only thing this film has in common with the game is the fact that battleships--or, more accurately, destroyers--play a key role in it. In this Battleship, aliens have found our planet and decided to take it for themselves. Their assault begins in the ocean, where they will spend most of the film fighting a handful of destroyers, sealing themselves and these other ships off from the rest of the world via a force field. In the meantime, a few of the aliens are attempting to take over a communications array in Hawaii in order to signal back home for reinforcements. It’s up to Lieutenant Alex Hopper to lead the Naval charge against the invading vessels and, extremely coincidentally, his girlfriend Samantha Shane to disrupt the aliens’ progress at the array.
Battleship’s problems run through nearly every aspect of the film, beginning with the script. Not only does much of it make little sense on a broad scale (how did the military not notice the aliens heading for the communications array?), but additionally, every single character in the film is a cliché. Hopper is the bad boy slacker with a heart, his brother is the overbearing authority figure, and Samantha is the girl drawn to him by his mix of good will and social clumsiness. The supporting characters are worse. Pop singer Rihanna plays a tough military chick who constantly spouts one-liners, and Samantha’s dad, who is also the Admiral in command of Hopper, is the protective father who disapproves of her love interest. Not only does this widespread use of clichés create uninteresting characters; it is detrimental to the film, as it is impossible to relate to characters that so clearly exist to fulfill a formula.
The cardboard writing extends to the dialogue, which sounds like it was written by a motivational speaker. Hopper’s brother uses terms like “game changer” interspersed with quotes from famous people to try to kick Alex into respectability. Sailors yell things like “Turn it up!” when in battle. We’re supposed to empathize with one amputee because he says “I’m half a man.” At least three times, characters use the phrase “Are you saying that …” followed by the most simplistic possible reduction of another character’s statement in order to get a reaction from the audience (the arguable worst being “Are you saying that E.T.’s trying to phone home?”). It feels as if the writers’ keyboards were broken for the duration of the writing process, so all they could do was copy/paste (using the mouse, of course) snippets from other scripts.
Even the editing becomes irritating. Whenever Hopper makes a major decision in commanding his fellow sailors in battle, the film proceeds to jump to multiple cuts of other characters doing things that are supposed to amp the realism of the situation but that all fall flat. Sometimes it’s them nodding in affirmation. Sometimes it’s them awkwardly scrunching their faces. Sometimes it’s simple exclamations like “Woooo!” At other times it’s yet more flawed dialogue, like when one character says “I’m telling you it’s the North Koreans!” in response to the initial attack, as if an economically defunct country cut off from the rest of the world has the means of designing and manufacturing a sea vessel that is five times larger than any other on earth, has the mobility of a dolphin, and can deploy impenetrable force fields. The predictability of editing combined with the simplicity of the dialogue is absurd.
Topping off the problems with the dialogue and editing techniques is the direction. Battleship changes tone in some of the most jarring ways I have ever seen. In the film's opening, Hopper makes it his mission to find Samantha, who he has just met, a chicken burrito, which she for some reason came to a run-down bar to order. There is an entire comedic segment complete with security footage of him injuring himself while breaking into a convenient store, during which time the Pink Panther theme plays on the soundtrack. At other times all sense of urgency comes to a halt so we can listen to the unfunny banter of stereotypical movie science geeks. These moments happen continuously throughout the film. Just when tension is building, the story steps aside from the main concerns of the plot to watch some inconsequential and supposedly humorous dialogue or events take place. Obviously these moments only detract from the film.
I could go on and talk about how the final act takes the story in the most ridiculous direction it could possibly go (and is filled, of course, with more cheesy one-liners) or about the ways in which the soundtrack becomes annoying or a couple other things, but I feel I’ve done enough. This is simply a bad movie. Unlike most bad movies, however, I can’t find anything to commend about it. Usually you can see where a movie was trying to go, even if it doesn’t work. Since this one is constructed entirely from Earth-versus-aliens action film stock, even that is impossible. This may be the worst movie I have seen in the theater.