At the Movies: Battleship

Michael Bay isn’t releasing a “Transformers” movie this year, so if you want special effects overload, cardboard-thin characterization and a ridiculous plot, you’ll have to settle for Peter Berg’s “Battleship.”

I never played “Battleship” as a kid. With all the grids and numbers it looked too much like math. If the board game had featured spinning metal wheels of death it might have got my interest. Sadly, spinning metal wheels of death are one of the few things of interest in the movie version.

The film starts off well enough with decent special effects as we learn scientists have discovered a planet similar to Earth. Giant satellite dishes are built to beam a signal across space to contact the planet, without anyone considering that maybe the inhabitants of Earth 2 were not going to appreciate unsolicited phone calls. Oops.

Now it’s time to introduce our human cast, and, oh God, I wish I didn’t have to relive this bit.  Handsome slacker Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is sitting in a bar and wants to impress the cute blonde who just came in. Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker) wants a chicken burrito but the bar’s microwave is closed for the night. Alex goes next door to a convenience store but it has just closed. He breaks in and accidentally trashes the place but manages to get Sam her burrito before he’s tazed and hauled away.

For some reason Alex doesn’t wind up in jail but rather in the custody of big brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard). Stone is fed up with little brother’s slacker ways and forces Alex to join him in the Navy. Time passes and Alex is now a lieutenant and on the verge of marrying Sam, but first they must get permission from Sam’s father — Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). Sam’s father is in the naval high command — who’da thunk it?

Unfortunately, Alex is still a self-centered screw-up, and commits a major blunder right before a series of naval exercises. This does not put him in the Admiral’s good graces… You know, I don’t want to talk about our pathetic hero and all his drama anymore. Bring on the aliens!

The aliens arrive, no doubt angry that we interrupted their dinner with our beacon, and set up shop in the Pacific Ocean. They put up a force field around them so the Admiral and his destroyers can’t interfere. However, a few ships are within the bubble, including Alex’s. The aliens make short work of all but one ship — you can guess which one. And all the senior officers end up dead leaving a troublemaking slacker in charge — you can guess which one.

Now as we all know, puny humans cannot fend off technologically advanced aliens without a Hulk. And since most alien invasion movies don’t have a Hulk, screenwriters rely on providing some sort of weak spot in the alien’s tech that humans can exploit. That, or bacteria.

In this case, it’s the old communications-linkage weakness.  The aliens need to use our satellite to contact the home world, so if Sam, a reluctant scientist (Hamish Linklater)  and a bitter, paraplegic former soldier (Gregory D. Gadson) can stop that from happening, then Alex can bring down the giant alien mothership using an out-of-commission battleship piloted by a small group of WWII veterans.

I don’t think I’ve seen a movie this stupid since “Battlefield Earth.” I think what annoyed me most about it was how calculated everything was in its attempt to make you want to cheer (which few people did at the screening I attended – not a good sign). It was just too jingoistic for me and about as subtle as a Ted Nugent concert.

Still, the movie’s not all bad. The special effects, and there are a lot of them, are fantastic. If you’re a fan of spectacle and things being blown up, it might be worth your time. Just sneak in an iPod and turn it on when the humans are onscreen and it should be fine.

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