Director: Peter Berg
Screenplay: Erich Hoeber & Jon Hoeber
Stars: Taylor Kitsch (Lieutenant Alex Hopper), Alexander Skarsgård (Commander Stone Hopper), Rihanna (Petty Officer Cora “Weps” Raikes), Brooklyn Decker (Samantha Shane), Tadanobu Asano (Captain Yugi Nagata), Hamish Linklater (Cal Zapata), Liam Neeson (Admiral Shane), Peter MacNicol (Secretary of Defense), John Tui (Chief Petty Officer Walter “The Beast” Lynch), Jesse Plemons (Boatswain Mate Seaman Jimmy “Ordy” Ord), Gregory D. Gadson (Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales), Jerry Ferrara (Sampson JOOD Strodell), Adam Godley (Dr. Nogrady), Rico McClinton (Captain Browley), Joji Yoshida (Chief Engineer Hiroki)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2012
Country: U.S.Battleship
BattleshipIf the phrase “From the toy company that brought you Transformers” makes you wince, Battleship is probably not the movie for you, although it is not nearly as bad as any of the entries in Michael Bay’s headache-inducing action franchise. Nominally inspired by the board game first introduced by Milton Bradley in 1943 (although its history as a pen-and-paper game predates World War I), Battleship takes place in and around the Hawaiian islands where the annual multinational RIMPAC naval exercises are interrupted by the arrival of four massive alien vessels that crash into the ocean, erect a force field that encircles the islands, and then goes about wreaking havoc for reasons that don’t always make immediate narrative sense, foregoing logic in favor of the kind of “blow ’em up real good!” spectacle demanded by destruction enthusiasts all around the world. That one of the film’s more original conceits is toppling skyscrapers in Hong Kong and demolishing overpasses in Honolulu rather than either New York City or Los Angeles (the typical locations for massive movie mayhem) is telling, although surprisingly the film as a whole is not nearly as bad as its crass concept might suggest (faint praise, I know).

Digging deep into the ’80s playbook of maverick military heroes, co-writers Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber (RED, Whiteout) center their story on Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, the erstwhile John Carter), who we first meet as a long-haired, 26-year-old slacker with no ambition and no future until his stern, but loving older brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgård), a Naval Commander, gets him to enlist. Fast-forward several years and he is now a lieutenant in the Navy, although his proclivity for bad decision-making and hot-headedness get him in trouble repeatedly, which is especially problematic when he wants to ask Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, for permission to marry his daughter, Sam (Sports Illustrated swimsuit model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker, playing the shameless Megan Fox “eye candy” role).

Romance quickly falls to the wayside once the aliens arrive and start blasting things to smithereens, which they do in a number of ways, including rather conventional-looking missiles that they fire in large batches from their warships and giant metals spinners that look like yo-yos the size of buss that buzz-saw through everything in their path like mechanical Tasmanian devils. The aliens themselves, whose faces aren’t immediately revealed, wear large armored suits with face visors that make them look like they just escaped from the latest iteration of Halo. Menacing as they appear, the aliens’ behavior is rather odd, as they seem to indiscriminately destroy in the manner of any number of marauding movie monsters from outer space, yet at the same time frequently display restraint when they sense that someone or something in their path does not constitute an imminent threat. It’s a strange dynamic that sometimes challenges what the movie otherwise insists should be our whole-hearted conviction that they be destroyed.

Familiarity is ultimately the name of the game, thus it will come as no surprise to anyone that Alex is eventually left in charge and must prove that he is not a complete waste of potential as he marshals his otherwise unused leadership skills and displays new levels of bravery and self-sacrifice, not to mention teamwork as he collaborates with a Japanese captain (Tadanobu Asano) with whom he previously had an acrimonious relationship. He is helpfully surrounded by a large cast of characters (including a petty officer played by pop star Rhianna) who provide some color and distraction, and if we tire of being out in the ocean for two long, the movie cuts inland to a mountaintop where Sam, who works as a physical therapist, is helping a gruff Army soldier (Gregory D. Gadson, a real-life Iraq War vet) with his new titanium legs. There is also a freaked-out, cowardly radio astronomer (Hamish Linklater) who recognizes early on that NASA’s attempts to send signals into deep space would result in an arrival similar to Columbus meeting the Indians, with the human race being on the losing side of the encounter.

Director Peter Berg’s previous work on increasingly large-scale action vehicles like The Rundown (2003) and The Kingdom (2006) puts him right at home in the computer-generated mayhem, and he competently guides the film through its motions. Unlike Bay, his sense of humor is a few notches above the simply puerile, and he knows that action is often most exhilarating when we see it unfolding in long takes, rather than being sliced to indecipherable ribbons. Battleship boasts some good humor (Berg actually manages to make a sequence that combines the “Pink Panther Theme” with what looks like footage from World’s Dumbest Criminals work) and a couple of truly impressive moments of spectacle, although it all tends to run together by the end. It’s fun in sporadic bursts, but never memorable.

The movie’s one true bit of inspiration comes near the end when Alex and the remainder of his crew must commandeer the U.S.S. Missouri, a 70-year-old battleship that has been docked for three decades and currently serves as a museum. The young naval studs have no idea how to work all its analogue mechanics, which means they must recruit the World War II and Korean War vets who work at the museum and still know how to fire the ship’s boilers and navigate without computers. The fiery old timers’ hero shot as they stride toward the camera with the sun rising behind them is both a funny parody of the signature Michael Bay moment and a meaningful tribute to an earlier generation. It’s not quite enough to salvage Battleship from its overall tedium and familiarity, but it’s still better than any of the Transformers movies.

Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (2.5)

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