Between the Transformers franchise and G.I. Joe, Hasbro's had a pretty decent run at the theaters lately. It hasn't been as impressive as what Marvel's been turning out, but if you ignore "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," the remaining films have at least been enjoyable eye candy. Unfortunately, the company seems to have hit a creative brick wall with "Battleship."
Featuring a plot that makes the aforementioned "Revenge of the Fallen" look like high art, "Battleship" dooms itself early on by straddling the line between serious and over the top. This isn't high art, and the filmmakers should have known that from the start. As a result, the audience is treated to more than an hour of low-rent melodrama before the movie finally embraces its inherent cheese factor and goes all in.
Battleship stars Taylor Kitsch (last seen in "John Carter") as naval Lieutenant Alex Hopper. He's a rebel without a cause who's dating the admiral's daughter and has anger management issues. He acts before he thinks, and it always ends up biting him in the ass. Because of this, Hopper is on the verge of getting kicked out of the Navy. As soon as the annual training exercise is over, he's getting the boot. Of course, that was before the aliens of doom decided to show up and give Hopper a chance to redeem himself.
Appearing out of deep space, in response to a "Hello Universe!" message sent out by Earth, the aliens in "Battleship" are evil lizard men who just want to kill us all. There's no other motivation. No threats. No demands. No honor code. Just death. With that said, the singular motivation was probably necessary as the aliens have no lines in the film. They never talk, not even to each other, though there is the occasional grunt.
By sheer luck, Hopper's ship manages to get trapped inside a force field put up by the aliens. The field contains the aliens, Hopper (and crew) and Hawaii. The rest of the fleet is trapped outside the field, which gives the Admiral (Liam Neeson) a chance to sound suitably annoyed about the situation, but it's otherwise a contrived plot device. Oh, and those aliens? They destroy the other two ships inside the field and the ENTIRE military force based on the islands, but they leave Hopper (and crew) alone because they're not seen as a threat. Yes, it's a total WTF moment since they should have all been toast. "Battleship" aliens fail at strategy.
We're not done with the contrived plot elements yet. Back on the island, Hopper's girlfriend just happens to be a physical therapist who works with veterans. And she just happens to be taking a stubborn, double-amputee with artificial legs on a hike up the same mountain from which the original "Hello Universe!" signal came. The aliens of doom are on their way there, too. There's even a plucky scientist who has to find his inner courage and save the day. I'm not making this up.
Back to the aliens of doom. The F/X designers missed out on a golden opportunity because, aside from a head or two, we really don't see the lizard men-esque aliens outside of their environmental suits. Nope, no cool aliens for you — just a bunch of interchangeable metal suits. On the upside, the aliens of doom must have played Halo because their environmental suits appear to share a design with Master Chief's iconic outerwear.
Ah yes, games. Being based on a Hasbro game, "Battleship" was obliged to insert nods to the original. The most obvious one occurs halfway through the movie, when Hopper (and crew) have the local ocean area up on a grid and are tracking the alien ships. They call out grid coordinates right before firing each missile. The second, and more subtle, nod comes in the projectiles fired by the aliens of doom. Shaped just like the plastic pegs from the game, they are seen clearly during the first alien encounter. The only real difference is that the ones in the movie are bigger and blow up.
With all that "Battleship" does wrong (and it does a lot wrong), the movie does have a coup de grâce moment when it finally seems to realize it shouldn't take itself seriously and just goes balls-to-the-wall absurd. It's here that "Battleship" finally crosses the line into "it's so bad it's good" territory. Let's just say that it involves senior citizens, an out-of-date battleship and AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" playing at high volume. Sadly, the words "You just sunk my Battleship!" are never actually spoken in the film. Total missed opportunity there.
Ultimately, the failures of "Battleship" have to rest solely on the screenwriter and director. All of the actors did their best with the material they had, but to be frank, there wasn't much there. Kitsch is one of the few reasons "Battleship" is even watchable. As for Rihanna's big debut, the slinky songstress puts in a respectable performance, giving the material more credit than it's worth. She could easily handle a more in-depth role.
In the end, "Battleship" is a film that's destined for late night TV re-runs and parties where a lot of booze is involved. It's not as horrid as "Battlefield Earth," though it would fit right in with the made-for-TV movies on the SyFy channel. We're counting down the days until the team over at RiffTrax decides to give this one a go.
"Battleship" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 11 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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