THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
How can you not be skeptical about Battleship? It's a movie based on a board game, for crying out loud. And not only is it based on a board game, it isn't entirely true to the world of the game. The story here revolves around an alien attack on Earth. It seems to me that since the game was inspired by Naval tactics, the film should be more The Hunt for Red October and less Independence Day. What's next? Clue as a horror film? Operation as a romantic comedy? Stratego as a musical? Understandable skepticism aside, Battleship is actually more amusing than it has any right to be. Not amusing enough to warrant an outright recommendation, but amusing nonetheless.
Taylor Kitsch plays Lieutenant Alex Hopper, a young officer whose irresponsible and impulsive ways cause him to screw up everything he tries to do. His commanding officer, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), despises him, which is problematic since Hopper intends to propose marriage to Shane's daughter, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker). One day, alien lifeforms, drawn by a satellite beacon sending messages into space, land in the ocean near Hawaii and begin to attack. When his immediate commanders (not including Shane) are killed, Hopper finds himself the senior officer on his ship. He is now forced to prove himself in a trial by fire. (Bet you didn't see that one coming, huh?) Of course, he rises to the challenge, leading the charge to rid our planet of the hostile outside forces. Pop singer Rhianna plays a Petty Officer aboard the ship.
I will give Battleship some credit: it's goofy, and it knows it's goofy. The movie doesn't take itself very seriously at all. There are many moments of humor although, regrettably, no one ever declares You sank my battleship!. (I'm not sure why; it seems the one thing someone going to see a movie based on Battleship would absolutely insist on. But whatever.) There are also a surprising number of conceptual ideas that cleverly tie into the game. The alien vessels are otherworldly variations on battleships, which reflects the game's Player 1-vs.-Player 2 design. A force field envelops several Navy ships, keeping them in a confined space, much like the game board itself. A big part of Hopper's plan to destroy the aliens involves watching a grid on a computer screen and firing missiles at specific coordinates. At one point, someone even yells, It's a miss! Furthermore, director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) keeps the pace energetic, staging some enjoyable action scenes along the way. The best involves a weird alien weapon that looks like a series of electric razor heads wound into a ball. It chews up everything in its path. All of these things indicate that Battleship is simply going for light entertainment, not unlike one would get sitting down at the kitchen table to play the Hasbro game.
While I got some undeniable kicks from these elements, there is a really big problem at the center of the movie: Because the game itself has no story, the filmmakers have had to build one around it. This has led them to make some very uninspired choices. Battleship intermittently feels a lot like other movies you've probably seen: Transformers, Avatar, ID4, etc. There's even a sequence near the end that reminded me of the Kraken attack from Clash of the Titans. If the picture was absolutely going to commit to an alien invasion story, it would have been nice had it also found an angle that didn't feel like a retread. The whole "ne'er-do-well making good" plot with Hopper is also extremely predictable. You know every beat the story is going to hit within the first 15 minutes, and then it proceeds to systematically hit every single one of them right on cue. While I applaud Battleship for its willingness to have at least a little character development, I wish it had envisioned something new for the humans to do.
I honestly expected to hate Battleship, just because its source material seemed too flimsy to sustain a 131-minute movie. Actually, it is too flimsy to support a 131-minute movie, but the knowingly goofy tone takes some of the sting out of that. I got into its groove a little bit, and would have gotten even further into it had the plot contained more originality. Battleship is ultimately too derivative for my taste. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a tiny bit of fun with it, though.
( 1/2 out of four)
Battleship is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language. The running time is 2 hours and 11 minutes.
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