Friday, May 18, 2012

Battleship: Deserves to be sunk

Battleship (2012) • View trailer
One star. Rating: PG-13, for intense action violence, mayhem and profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.18.12

Battleship is a movie for folks who found the Transformers flicks too intellectually challenging.

Alex (Taylor Kitsch), hurled into command when every other senior officer gets
blown up, shredded or otherwise sliced 'n' diced by nasty alien weapons, seeks
inspiration from the screen monitored by Petty Officer Second Class Cora
Raikes (Rihanna). Now, if she'd burst into song, that might improve this dud.
Erich and Jon Hoeber’s laughably moronic plot would make a great discussion topic in a fifth-grade science class, where 10-year-olds would gleefully pick it to shreds. Let’s start with preposterous coincidence, total ignorance of physical reality, and an invading alien force bearing nasty weaponry clearly capable of wiping us off the planet ... except when the script says no, we can’t let that happen in this scene. Just because.

No lie: At times, for absolutely no reason, the massively armed alien warrior ships simply don’t fire upon our sitting-duck ocean vessels. Beats the hell out of me.

I’d call this flick a cartoon, but that’s an insult to animators. And it’s not even a decent comic book movie, because that genre’s writers have been operating at a much higher level of intelligence since, oh, the early 1960s.

But, then, what should we expect from a film based on a board game?

The one-dimensional characters here, so insubstantial that I’d expect them to blow away in a stiff breeze, speak in clipped grunts that would have been retro in the Cro-Magnon age. I truly worry that if one of these folks attempted a three-syllable word, he’d forget the first by the time he reached the third.

Except for the token Scientific Geek, of course, who’s both a technobabble motormouth and a clichéd liberal wimp: We can’t have those pussies getting in the way of real soldiers determined to wipe this alien scum off the face of the Earth. John Wayne — who you’ll recall turned 1968’s The Green Berets into a notoriously pro-Vietnam War screed — would have loved this flick.

Actually, that’s always been one of my many objections to actor-turned-director Peter Berg. Bad enough that he makes dumbed-down nonsense apparently aimed toward trailer-trash intellectuals; he’s also jingoistic and frequently racist. His 2007 take on our American presence in the Middle East, The Kingdom, traded on wincingly offensive stereotypes, while suggesting that the whole problem could be solved if good ol’ American men and women simply shot every “towelhead” in sight.

Above all else, though, a director should direct ... as in, elicit credible performances from his cast. That’s his job, right? Well, I guess Berg didn’t get that memo, because the acting in “Battleship” is conspicuous only by its absence.

I thought Taylor Kitsch scraped the bottom of the barrel as the mush-mouthed lummox hero of John Carter, but I was wrong; he’s even worse here. More often than not, he can’t even be bothered to enunciate properly; he mumbles his lines like Mickey Rourke on a bender ... and sporting a mouthful of marbles. Kitsch also has no camera presence whatsoever; he just sorta hangs about from one scene to the next, as if waiting for somebody to tell him to empty the wastebaskets.

Kitsch made his name as the teen heartthrob star of television’s Friday Night Lights, but on the big screen he’s strictly a nonentity. It takes genuine talent — actually, lack thereof — to be such a colossal dud in two megabudget action flicks ... released within weeks of each other.

How bad is the acting in Battleship? Put it this way: Model-turned-pop star Rihanna delivers the most noteworthy performance, in her modest acting debut. Her character is wholly unbelievable — that goes without saying, in a turkey like this — but at least she brings some desperately needed spunk and camera presence.

And a warning to all you Liam Neeson fans: Whatever you may have been led to believe, he’s barely in this film. His character, Admiral Shane, pops up a few times early on, only because he’s the father of Sam (Brooklyn Decker), who inexplicably falls in love with primary hero Alex (Kitsch) after he breaks into a convenience store to get her a chicken burrito ... never mind the considerable property damage he causes in the process.

Uh-huh. Babes love that sort of devotion.

Once the warfare starts, however, plot contrivance keeps Neeson’s hard-chargin’ admiral out of the picture until the obligatory happy-happy reunion in the final scene.

The story, such as it is:

After unwisely attempting to make contact with an Earth-like planet on the far side of the universe, everybody in D.C.’s Capitol Hill is stunned when a nasty outer-space squadron follows the signal back to our planet. (Object lesson: Don’t phone home if there’s a chance the distant relations won’t be happy to hear from you.)

And could our Secretary of Defense (Peter MacNicol) be a bigger tool? If this is the intelligence level in Washington, we deserve to be invaded.

The never-named outer space baddies plunge into the Pacific Ocean, close to Hawaii, just as navies from around the world have gathered for RIMPAC: the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the largest annual international maritime war games. Despite his screw-up past, Alex somehow has become a naval weapons officer on the USS John Paul Jones; his older brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgård), is commanding officer of the USS Sampson.

The central alien vessel immediately erects a huge, force-field “dome” that encloses their ships, the Hawaiian islands and only three RIMPAC vessels: the John Paul Jones, the Sampson and the Japanese destroyer Myoko, commanded by Capt. Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Asano). All the other “good-guy vessels” are blocked from the action by the force dome.

The alien warcraft are equipped with two different weapons, but I don’t understand why they bother with the lethal “burrowing bombs” that can reduce a battleship to flotsam and jetsam within seconds; the huge, razor-edged, spinning yo-yos wreak much more havoc, seem unstoppable and apparently have minds of their own. (Their design and appearance are a bald-faced lift from the aforementioned Transformer franchise. Sigh...)

Those gadgets immediately demolish all of our land-based aircraft, in a scene designed to elicit the discomfort of the Pearl Harbor bombing ... which seems rather odd, in a film with a strong Japanese character fighting alongside us Ammuricans. (If I haven’t yet mentioned how tone-deaf this script is, now’s a good time.)

The slice ’n’ dice monster wheels also wreak havoc among the civilian population, razing freeways and destroying buildings with the gleeful nonchalance of steel marbles in an arcade game. And Berg clearly couldn’t care less about the hundreds (thousands?) of men, women and children obviously mutilated in the process ... but carefully off camera, doncha know, ’cause we don’t want to endanger the PG-13 rating.

Somehow, Alex, boatswain Jimmy Ord (Jesse Plemons), Chief Petty Office Walter “The Beast” Lynch (John Tui) and Petty Officer Second Class Cora Raikes (Rihanna) manage to avoid being blown up or eviscerated by the bouncing yo-yos. Things get even more challenging when heavily armored alien soldiers also invade our vessels, but hey: No superior force is too overwhelming to be ignored when the script says it’s okay to do so.

I’ll give the brothers Hoeber credit for one clever scripting idea. For some contrived reason, the alien vessels don’t appear on Earth radar, nor do our vessels appear on theirs. (Don’t ask.) At night, then, both sides are radar-blind, which gives Nagata the clever idea to triangulate water disbursement via tsunami buoys, thereby “finding” the alien ships on a grid-like map that resembles — you guessed it — a Battleship game board.

Silly, yes, but this does lead to one of the film’s genuinely suspenseful sequences.

Back on land, alien soldiers surround our Hawaiian deep-space satellite grid, which happens to be where Sam — a physical therapist who helps rehabilitate military veterans — has been hiking with double-amputee Mick Canales (U.S. Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson, who lost both legs in Iraq in 2007, and makes a respectable acting debut here).

Will Sam, Mick and dweebish scientist Cap Zapata (Hamish Linklater) be able to prevent this massive squad of aliens from uplinking to their home planet, by piggy-backing on our satellite transmissions? Does Decker look great in a jog-bra?

All this ludicrously dumb action is choreographed to a screaming power-rock soundtrack laden with songs by ZZ Top, AC/DC, Band of Horses, Creedence Clearwater Revival and many others. The subtext is obvious: Massive loss of life doesn’t matter a jot, as long as it takes place against some raucous pop anthems. Let’s hear it for the trivialization of weapons of mass destruction.

Sadly, dumbed-down, lowest-common-denominator crap-candy like this is enormously popular with overseas moviegoers, which makes me truly worry about what foreign viewers think of us Americans.

Battleship throws a lot of money on the screen, and it could be viewed as a gung-ho Navy recruitment film. Yes, it’s slick; it’s also superficial and utterly soulless.

And dumb, dumb, dumb.

1 comment:

  1. Duly noted.. Act of Valor was a ding on operators life in general. I skipped this one because my brain has at least some survival instinct.. O.o

    I'm sorry for the loss of cells that accompanied the viewing of this.