Thursday, May 17, 2012
I don't have a problem with video game movies. I like video games, and I like movies, and despite the protestations of some cinematic purists, it's a natural fit for flicks that just want to give a good time.
The problem with "Battleship" is that it spends so much time denying that it's a video game before turning on the fireworks that everyone came to see. Yes, yes, the movie is actually based on the classic Hasbro board game, in which opponents try to blindly guess where their enemy's battleship is. (And, at least in my case, attempt to stave off mind-numbing boredom while playing it.)
But it's a big-budget special effects summer movie, make no mistake.
To those wondering what the heck the game has to do with the film: yes, there is a sequence about halfway through where the good guys use a clever trick using a grid-like pattern to track the alien boogums they're fighting. And, of course, nearly all the mayhem takes place aboard Navy vessels.
If you're looking for metaphysical ruminations about the first contact between man and an alien race, you won't find them here. The aliens come to Earth for purposes never really made clear, other than they're here to give humans something to shoot at.
They come out of the ocean in big seafaring hovercraft-y things that sort of jump around the water's surface and cfhange shape. Think "Transformers" meets "Independence Day" meets "War of the Worlds," and you've got a pretty good handle.
Eventually they do emerge from their ships, and are surprisingly un-buggy and humanoid. They could be first cousins to the blue dudes in "Avatar," but they favor mechanistic armor and weaponry over a biometric hair hookup.
Liam Neeson is featured prominently in the film's trailers, but it's just a walk-on role as the stern admiral, who promptly gets sidelined as soon as the sea spray hits the fan. The real star is Taylor Kitsch as Alex Hopper, a ne'er-do-well rebel who joins the Navy as a last resort, and somehow ends up commanding the battle against the aliens.
Kitsch has presence as an action star, but the wind-up involving Alex's transformation from zero to hero takes way, way too long. It's 45 minutes or so into the movie before the critters from outer space show up, and until then it's a bunch of familiar pabulum about learning to grow up, work as a team, etc.
Director Peter Berg and screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber cling so desperately to the idea that their movie is about the human element, when Alex and all the rest (including singer Rihanna) are really just arcade avatars ready to be put through their paces.
Brooklyn Decker plays Alex's love interest, who just so happens -- gosh! -- to be the daughter of the mean ol' admiral. Decker has the notable luck to be featured in two big Hollywood releases this week (the other is "What To Expect When You're Expecting"), but neither one is much to brag about.
Gregory D. Gadson, an actual Army veteran who lost both his legs in Iraq, has a solid turn as a disgruntled war veteran who rediscovers his inner warrior battling the aliens.
Now, the movie is named "Battleship," but of course battleships are military anachronisms -- huge, hulking behemoths designed to batter the enemy with its huge guns. The Navy prefers fast, nimble destroyers these days. There's a turn of events late in the going that rectifies the discrepancy, which is both extraordinarily unlikely and a cheap applause moment.
There are a few times in this movie to cheer and thrill, but the filmmakers don't seem to want to own up to its bubblegum nature. The worst kind of video game movies are those that pretend not to be.
2 stars out of four