Years ago, your reviewer once heard a writer with some experience in Hollywood, describe what it was like trying to sell a movie idea.. “Producers”, he said, “don’t want to know what a movie is. They want to know what it’s like”. He would have to explain that the movie was like ______, except that ________. For example, “It’s like Jaws, except it has chihuahuas” Or, “It’s like Star Wars, except that it has two cheerleaders.” Battleship can be explained succinctly using this concept. It’s like Transformers, except it has ships in it, and a very old board game. In fact, that’s probably how it was pitched.
Directed by Peter Berg, Battleship is the latest in a growing list of US military vs. alien invaders movies. It’s also, like a lot of other movies these days, a feature length advertisement, in this case for the aforementioned board game, as well as for toys, video games, and other related products. It’s also clearly meant as a recruiting ad for the Navy as well.
Battleship gets off to a slow start, with likeable loser and screwup Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, of the disastrous John Carter) joining the Navy at the insistence of his brother Stone. (Alexander Skargard) Hopefully the Navy can straighten him out, or at least Stone, a Navy officer, will be able to keep a closer eye on him. Meanwhile, scientists are beaming a message to the newly discovered Planet G, announcing humanity’s presence. Flash forward a few years later, and Alex, still a likeable loser and screwup who has issues with authority, has inexplicably risen to the rank of Lieutenant. He has also fallen in love with Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker), whose father just happen to be Admiral Shane. (Liam Neeson) His brother Stone is now captain of a destroyer. And the aliens from Planet G, who apparently didn’t dig whatever was in that message, have sent an invasion fleet to conquer the Earth. The invaders land in the Pacific Ocean near where Admiral Shane and an international armada are conducting naval maneuvers, and the battle for Earth is on.
There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. Every alien invasion movie cliche is here. In fact, at times you can visualize the story conference where they came up with this. “OK, we need really big alien war machines with a lot of complicated moving parts because we can market the toys.” Or “Hey, the Japanese market is really big. Let’s have a Japanese Navy captain, and let’s have a scene where he takes command of the American destroyer, because the Japanese audience will really like that.” Or maybe “Hey, let’s work some footage of President Obama into the movie, because he’s really cool.” And at some point there was “OK, we need to work the Hasbro game into this. How about if the aliens shoot missiles that stick in the Navy ships sort of like the pegs in the board game, and when the ship has pegs in it from one end to the other, they all blow up and it’s sunk?”
Battleship goes on a bit too long, and the acting is uneven. It’s not as good as last year’s Battle: Los Angeles, which worked a lot better because the characters were more convincing . Taylor Kitsch does a pretty good likeable loser who comes through and saves the world, and of course Liam Neeson is good in anything he does, though he hasn’t got much to do here. Some of these actors are new to acting. Rhianna is marginal at best as a weapons technician, though she really hasn’t got much more to do than Neeson, and perhaps that’s just as well. Gregory D Gadson, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Army who lost his legs to a roadside bomb, shows real charisma, talent, and screen presence as a disabled vet who gets back in the fight to meet the alien invaders, and he gets to deliver the movie’s best line. And the “old salts” who volunteer to crew the USS Missouri to meet the alien threat are actual veterans of the “Mighty Mo” from World War II.
At this point, we should remember Mark Twain’s remark that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds. Battleship is actually more fun than a description of it sounds. Once the action starts it’s nonstop. The movie looks great, and you can sit there and ogle your choice of the special effects, the extensive Navy hardware, or Brooklyn Decker. It’s a summer movie, big, loud, mindless, and fun if you don’t think about it too much. It’s an unusual blend of patriotism and PC. The movie’s heart, at least, is in the right place. The idea of taking an old World War II battleship out to take on alien invaders actually does have a certain inherent coolness to it. (Besides, who would want to see a movie called Littoral Combat Ship?)