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Battleship (2012)

May 18, 2012

 

written by: Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber

produced by: Peter Berg, Brian Goldner, Duncan Henderson, Bennett Schneir & Scott Stuber

directed by: Peter Berg

rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language)

runtime: 131 min.

U.S. release date: May 18, 2012

 

No one said it. Not a one. I already had low expectations going in for “Battleship”, but I thought for sure I would hear someone utter the famous line “You sunk my battleship!”  – I mean, come on! The set up was right there in the casting of Liam Neeson. Could you imagine him booming such a line in his gravely voice, as he watches one of his beloved ships sink? It would be just like“Release the Kraken!” I want to believe that at one point, the line was in the script for him, but maybe he balked. What he should’ve done is balk at the entire screenplay and the whole idea of adapting the classic Hasbro board game altogether. For a hot second, I was optimistic when it was announced that director Peter Berg would be the lucky guy to helm “Battleship”, but that was quickly dashed once I read that aliens would be involved. Yeah, there we go Hollywood – another loud blockbuster wanna-be, crafted from The School of Michael Bay – that’s original. The end result is a poorly-acted movie, drowned in video game-style CGI and riddled with more damaging clichés than any of the obnoxiously loud ammunition we see dispensed on the big-screen.

Through expositional introductory text we are told that back in 2005 our astronomers found another planet out there somewhere with similar living conditions to Earth and they named it Planet G (it stands for Goldilocks!). The next obvious step for us Earthlings would be to say “hullo” to any potential inhabitants of such a planet. A powerful radio signal is sent out into space from Hawaii using advanced communications technology and an orbiting satellite. I bet you can guess where this is going….

In the present, we find greasy-haired Alex Hooper (Taylor KitschJohn Carter“) downing beers in a Oahu bar, while his older brother, Stone Hooper (Alexander Skarsgard, “True Blood”) trepidiously accompanies the twentysomething slacker. As the inebriated clichés and bad dialogue stumble out, we learn that Alex is the stereotypical young punk who’s never amounted to much yet shows such potential. Yawn. While his responsible brother, a commanding officer of the USS Sampson, a destroyer in the United States Pacific Naval Fleet, tries to steer him on the straight and narrow, Alex is more concerned with getting the blonde babe (a vacant Brooklyn Decker, “Just Go With It“) at the bar a chicken burrito. When his efforts to impress Samantha, who happens to be the daughter of Stone’s superior, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson, in cruise control mode) land him in hot water with the police again (in an unfunny scenario that made me appreciate how great Kitsch’s numerous jail escape attempts were in “John Carter”) Stone gives him an ultimatum – Navy or bust.

 

Right away, none of this makes sense. I know I know – this is a mindless action flick with aliens that simply is made to provide escapism – but it could still show some logic and give us characters who talk like real people. If Alex is such a burden to Stone than why on earth would he want him in the Navy with him and besides – how is he even Navy material? Ugh. It didn’t take me long to start groaning in my seat.  Maybe it was the outdated (and overused) Stone Temple Pilots and Billy Squier tunes in the bar, which were at times literally drowning out lines, or it could’ve been the immediately noticeable wooden “acting” from a former Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue cover model, but this movie quickly started to sink even before it could stay afloat.

But then I reminded myself – this is really just a Michael Bay knock-off – not that it made the experience any better.  It saddens though actually, since I usually like Berg’s work (“The Kingdom” and “Hancock” were entertaining and let’s not forget “Friday Night Lights” which Berg adapted into a television series with Kitsch), but this movie feels like Hasbro studios and/or Universal steered this film into a uniform product that resembles its other toy-based movies. If the rowdy audience that surrounded me is any indication, this movie will likely earn solid box office, probably catering to those who have a moviegoing void with no new “Transformers” movie out. So be it.

There are moments in “Battleship” when it feels like a Berg film. There’s his handheld approach and occasional close-up shots that show the exhaustion of a character, as well as a slightly saturated grainy look. That’s mostly due to Berg reuniting with his frequent cinematographer, Tobias A Schliessler, but even he can’t put a unique stamp on alien ships attacking naval vessels. Another Berg-ism can be found in the palpable camaraderie between Alex and his crew, similar to his “Friday Night Lights” film and TV series. That’s right – Alex is made a lieutenant and a Tactical Officer of the USS John Paul Jones, yet he can’t muster the courage to ask Admiral Shane’s blessing to marry Samantha. Just one of many overplayed plotlines.

The seafaring supporting characters make up a mostly convincing crew, even though it’s kind of hard to keep track of who’s who at first. Alex has some tight pals in brawny Chief Petty Officer “Beast” (New Zealander and former Power Ranger, John Lui) and crew mate Ordy (Jessie Plemmons, a “Friday Night Lights” alum), who adds some needed levity. Alex is also backed by weapons specialist and Gunner’s Mate Second Class, Cora Raikes (miscast pop star, Rihanna), who can be seen running, shouting and shooting. As much as it’s nice to see these guys interact and work together, it didn’t take me (and the rest of the audience) long to wish for an alien invasion. I guess I found my threshold for rah-rah bravado.

 

 

So, when the aliens finally arrive, I felt like they finally got my order right and I could start eating my entrée. But be prepared – these are the kind of aliens that we never learn anything about, except how to take them out. Who knows why they came or why they’re trying to phone home. It’s all projection and conjecture on our part – they’re calling on reinforcements so they can take over the world! Really? How do we know this? All that matters is how we take them out. After all, they’re firing on us!

Whether or not these are smart aliens is debatable. I guess they were clever enough to land in close proximity to the RIMPAC naval war games off of Pearl Harbor, where the United States is hosting Japan. But their first intelligent move is to a force field around three destroyers, coincidentally inhabiting all the main characters. They obviously have advanced technology and massive ships that spit out what looks like giant shotgun shells or (if we’re referencing the board game) massive pegs that detonate once they sink into our battleships. Ah, clever. But what’s never really explained is why their massive ships never just fly over ours and obliterate us. Instead, they just seem to hover and hop over the water. Huh?

There is one very meta sequence which has a handful of crew members actually playing Battleship in “Battleship”. It’s a clever yet eye-rolling way to incorporate the board game into a tense tactical maneuver created by a Alex’s rival, Japanese Capt. Nagata (a great Tadanobu Asano, last seen in “Thor”) of the JDS Myōkō. In order to attack undetected, he comes up with the idea of relying on a grid made out of tsunami warning buoys to track their movements. All they have to do is anticipate the alien’s next move, call a coordinate like “Fire on G19!” and BAM! Sound familiar? Like I said, clever but also quite cheesy.

To even the playing ground, the aliens have been designed as humanoid beings, which I’m sure helped production costs. It’s much easier to have actors get layered with make-up than it is to invest in some unique all-CGI look. This way, it’s also easier for a career Army veteran (real life double amputee Iraq vet Gregory Gadson) to say “I got this!” and go man to man, er, alien. With their full-body armor on, these off-worlders look like something from Halo and without their helmets they kind of resemble a sunburnt Gary Gnu. It really just doesn’t matter how dangerous they are, because they’ll all gonna die.

“Battleship” goes out of its way to tell viewers how brave and courageous our naval officers and crewman are. Even though the Japanese seaman are just as worthy – they can’t crank AC/DC to 11 during a rallying montage that has our young crew working alongside Octogenarian war heroes though – not like we can.

There’s no sense criticizing the wretched screenplay by brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber (“Red”), even though they’re the ones who give the actors such recycled lazy material. It’s just no use. The producers of “Battleship” received exactly what they wanted from these two, a product that needed marketing.  No one involved in the making of this movie cares if they’ve made anything unique or original. This is just one of three alien invasion movies out this month, but “Battleship” wins at being the most moronic and noisy of them all.

RATING: *1/2

 

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Tairy Greene permalink
    May 19, 2012 10:59 am

    I want to see the hand drawn alternate movie poster for this movie like the one you posted for Avengers.

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