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'Battleship' taking on water

Reeling It In

Posted: May 24, 2012 - 9:37am
Tadanobu Asano, left, and Taylor Kitsch are shown in a scene from "Battleship."  AP Photo/Universal Pictures
AP Photo/Universal Pictures
Tadanobu Asano, left, and Taylor Kitsch are shown in a scene from "Battleship."

"Battleship"
Battleship Delta Productions
2 hours, 11 minutes

"You sunk my battleship!" There. Was that so hard? No. Four little words that, as far as I can tell, are the only reason for this week's high-octane alien-invasion-on-the-water flick to exist. How can you make a movie based on the boardgame "Battleship," and not use that line?

Fans of the classic Milton-Bradley table-top version will be pleased to find that much of the tedium of the original is maintained, however. Fans of "Transformers" will be pleased that parent company Hasbro has transplanted the visual and sound-effects from that movie onto this. And fans of "John Carter" will be pleased that poor Taylor Kitsch is getting another shot at stardom. Too bad the movie isn't better.

The film begins with Kitsch, as Alex Hopper, a nice-guy ne'er-do-well who, after breaking into a convenience store to impress a girl, is dragged into the Navy by his high-achieving officer brother. At the same time, scientists have discovered a type of planet which they describe as "goldilocks" -- not too hot, not to cold. Basically the kind of place that could, potentially contain life.

There are many such planets, but this particular one is in some far-flung solar system, and the eggheads in charge decide it would be a good idea to send an intense signal beam directly toward the planet.

Fast-forward a couple of years and Alex is still causing trouble, but is now a naval officer somehow. And the girl? You guessed it -- the Admiral's daughter. It's love and now Alex is honor-bound to ask her father's permission to marry. But, being kind of an idiot, Alex gets involved in a fight with a visiting Japanese naval officer and nearly gets court-martialed.

Luckily for him, all hell's about to break loose and the Admiral will have other things to worry about than his daughter's poor taste in men. Apparently the deep-space signal has been received loud and clear, and a handful of alien spaceships come careening into the ocean, just adjacent to where the U.S. Navy and her guests are performing joint exercises off the coast of Hawaii. This sets off a stand-off, of sorts, with the forces of Earth on one side and the aliens on the other. You can see where this is going.

I guess "Battleship" isn't exactly a terrible movie, but at nearly 2 1/2 hours, the repetitive nature of the film begins to wear on you. The alien ships have a cool weapon that is a kind of targeted wrecking ball that is launched with an impressive array of gears and fire and clanking noises. But the fifth time they show this sequence, you just think "I know you spent a lot of money on that, but just shoot the damn thing already!"

The plot is somewhat of a slog as well, as Alex and crew get in one on-board scrape after another, all feeling remarkably similar. Back on shore, the admiral's daughter, Samantha, a physical therapist is working on a difficult client -- a wounded Petty Officer who has lost his legs and must now relearn to walk on metal pole prosthetics. He's depressed and grouchy, as one would be, so she decides to take him on a hike to lift his spirits. Tough love?

Anyway, these two reminded me of how repetitive the dialogue was, as well. Multiple times the wounded man tells Sam how easy the hike is. "My dog could make this hike!" "My grandma could make this hike!" Etc. You might imagine that we were being set up for an emotional realization, but it felt more like the director couldn't decide which take of the this particular scene to include and just left them all in.

"Battleship" doesn't work for many reasons, but mostly it's that we just don't care about the characters or the danger they're in. The acting is so-so, the script giving poor Liam Neeson little to do but glower as the admiral. The special effects are great, but, as I said, pretty repetitive, and the plot makes almost no sense.

The film does make one interesting choice, only to squander it. Most alien invasion movies show the extraterrestrial horde as scary monsters. Often they have weapons organically attached or growl and spit like beasts. These aliens wear space-suits and are quite humanoid, giving the impression that they are somewhat similar to us. It would have been fascinating to investigate their motivations, their background, even a little, but "Battleship" can't be bothered.

Big mistake. The aliens' portrayal begs the audience to identify with them, even in a small way, but we are not given that opportunity.

Other nitpicky things that bugged me had to do with the physics of spacetravel. If these aliens were as far away as they were said to be, it would take dozens of years to send a fleet to us, and that's if they could travel at the speed of light. These aliens do it in two. But if they're so quick to come here and beat us up, why come now? Surely an advanced civilization would have known the Earth is out there.

But alas, it's pointless to dwell on these inconsistencies. "Battleship" does offer some fun. Dumb fun, but fun. If you're looking for a mindless action flick with a real "Transformers" vibe, minus the oily Michael Bay sheen of cruelty and sex, perhaps "Battleship" can fit the bill. While it takes itself too seriously and completely misses the kitchyness of making a movie based on a boardgame, but it does have a lot of action, and, as advertised, battleship battles.

I wanted more, however. In the end, whether they say the line or not, these filmmakers have definitely sunk this "Battleship."

Grade: C

"Battleship" is rated PG-13 for action violence and some language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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