REVIEW: Supershaky Battle: Los Angeles Raises the Question: Could Your Mom Do Better with an iPhone?

Movieline Score: 2

The equilibrium-punishing visual style of the alien apocalypse flick Battle: Los Angeles suggests two possibilities to me, the first being that budgetary restrictions account for the epileptic, close-up camerawork sometimes used to convey a sense of "action" and "excitement" in films that can't afford to come by those things in a more interesting, inventive way. Matt Reeves's Cloverfield, for instance, made at the veritable clearance rate of $30 million, used point-of-view shaky-cam so extensively that warnings of motion sickness were posted in some theaters. The other possibility is that my mom is using her new iPhone to moonlight as a cinematographer.

Though the gadget has certainly changed her life -- I have a constant stream of photos to prove it -- I checked the credits, and Lukas Ettlin is listed as the DP. And alas, it seems that director Jonathan Liebesman had something like $100 million to play with, and all I got was this lousy aneurysm. It takes skill to pull off a you-are-there representation of spatial and circumstantial chaos without dragging the film itself into the muck; the director has to orient the audience within a realm of total disorientation. Or at least stay aware of the fact that this is a representation. Otherwise it really is just sensory bombardment, and in two dimensions you have even less of a grasp of what's happening and of what you're looking at than the poor bastards on-screen.

This means it takes longer than it should to recognize Aaron Eckhart zig-zagging around inside the frame. Eckhart plays Sgt. Michael Nantz, a Marine about to retire under the cloud of a botched Iraq mission that resulted in the deaths of several of his men. It's August 2011, and a meteor shower is scheduled to hit off the coast of California. What hits is in fact a coordinated outer space invasion, and Los Angeles is only one of dozens of cities around the world under sudden attack. The aliens' storming of Santa Monica beach is a directorial high point, and even it inspires only modest tingles: The Marines are mobilizing to evacuate the area as a precautionary measure when a live television broadcast captures the first images of what's really going on. It's frantic and scary and even the Marines look spooked -- an effective trick that wears out long before almost a full two hours are up.

Liebesman lingers excitedly on overhead images of the Google Earth shitshow that is the unknown enemy's planetary invasion. They are colonizing every continent right up the backside, although no one can figure out what they want or where they come from. At some point someone speculates that stealing Earth's water is their objective, only to be drowned out by the constant, deafening pounding of every manner of artillery. A mass bombing is planned to cleanse Los Angeles of the enemy, and Nantz, who is officially second in command to a young turk named Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), must make like he's not actually the one leading his men out of harm's way for the next 90 minutes. Along the way they pick up a random assortment of civilians, including a noble immigrant (Michael Pena) and his obedient son Hector (Bryce Cass) and Bridget "Maybe I can help -- I'm a veterinarian" Moynahan.

Aside from dialogue that would make James Cameron cry, Christopher Bertolini's script is notable for its recruitment pamphlet-level of dedication to the glory of the U.S. Marines. As if the way superhero handsome Eckhart fills out a helmet and chinstrap doesn't say it all, Bertolini has him huffing on about showing the enemy how Marines fight, reminding his colleagues that Marines don't quit, and giving glittery-eyed speeches about how even when Marines make the wrong decision at least they have the courage to make a decision. (Note to George W.: I think I just found your new favorite movie.) One of the most disconcerting things about this infinitely disconcerting clusterbomb is watching Eckhart, who seems to have convincingly played every movie role except the one his physiognomy destined him for, get buried by the hokum of lines even the bravest soldier couldn't sell. The audience I saw the movie with dissolved into hoots every time Liebesman paused from his frenzy to hotwire our heartstrings into an emotional response.

Mostly, though, he sticks to a series of creeping silences followed by an onslaught of heavy fire -- from drones in the sky, the alien-droid beasts on the ground, and the mechanical ton-tons they built to blast us all away. A moment like that of a helicopter full of injured Marines and civilians being blown out of the sky doesn't have the game-changing impact it should because there is no game -- and no ruling rhythm -- to the battle. Shadowy Vietnam allusions crop up here and there -- particularly a last, frantic airlift out of L.A. -- but on the whole Battle: Los Angeles is the emptiest form of sci-fi action: Just one bloody (or alien gooey) thing after another.


  • Alex says:

    No way this film is worse than that pile of shit Big Mommas house: Like Father bullshit you gave 6 and a half to. No way this film is as bad as you say.

  • Trace says:

    Denial will not help you recover from your ailments.

  • stolidog says:

    OMG! I can't wait for a late night double feature of this movie and Skyline. I've got to get back in touch with my dealer.

  • delighted says:

    You're just upset that they didn't toe the line by having the marines be evil american psychos.

  • K says:

    Wow is this a movie review from someone who actually saw the film, or a random tangent on everything but the movie?
    If you actually saw the movie you would know that they got some of the army tech wrong. You would have also known why they were using the water. And you would have also figured out that the alien invaders weren't what they seemed.
    Someone took the "dog ate my homework" route, read some previews and decided it must be somethign then what it really is. And then going off on Bush???? And comparing this to Avatar???
    The biggest complain one could make, which tells me you didn't even watch it, was that the movie was more like someone took a bunch of alien/sci-fi/war movies and copied and pasted them together. Nope instead we got someone bent on proving some really non-important detritus point that they didn't want to do their job and watch the movie.
    Thanks for letting me know never to come back to this site ever again.

  • Morgo says:

    I made the mistake of seeing this movie before I read I read the review. I wasted a whole lot of money! And time! I think this is the worst movie I've seen in a long time (Worse than Paul which was a comedy that barely even made me smile). It was long, but the worst thing to me was how the story kept stopping for mindless character development and petty dramas, which was stupid because the characters were clearly in the first day of an ALIEN APOCALYPSE.
    The biggest laugh I had was when some army guy gives orders and says that generic army-guy cliche "this is not a drill! I repeat this is not a drill!" as if it needed any clarifying when in the background there's a hundred aliens blasting holes out of LA. And it was kind of a painful laugh, because such completely unrealistic human responses to what's occuring in the story meant I had completely wasted my money - again

  • Morgo says:

    They got the army tech wrong, too? This movie is just beyond crap. I saw the movie, and had more or less the same thoughts as the reviewer, (detritus, tangents and all - my mind wandered all over the place trying to find something to entertain myself with). I'm not able to articulate them as well of course but potential audience members, make no mistake this movie is a bitter disappointment and people need to be told how bad it is. If you're curious, wait and rent it on dvd, or better, download it for free.

  • Armando says:

    Wow - nothing like a great war picture that depicts American heroism, pride and self confidence. Am I right or what? It's like a can of Raid - all the cockroaches scurry, flip on thier backs and kicks their legs madly. I love when movie reviewers look down at their fans and say, "I need you to be my lil' socialist and hate this movie". I hope they run midnight shows in Berkeley, those smelly hippies and Che wannabe students needs a good disenfecting with some America first soap. Thanks for making this the last time I ever have to come to Movieline - hope you out of bizness real some.

  • BigRedCurlyGuy says:

    Hey LA:HATERS, you hate war, you hate war, you hate war, well unless it proves that GW is an arse then you love it. This is a pop-corn eating, gummy chewing, gallon soda drinking summer SciFi war movie, and the FX alone are worth the price of admission! We don't expect you're sorry comments to be worth a pound of alien excrement and I will see it anyway, multiple times. Hate this...this movie got a jump on summer and will likely do WAY better than expected in the end. In fact they did better than expected on opening weekend. I would love to see these LA:HATERS try the actor Marine boot camp these guys endured and get their arses handed to them.
    Battle:LA...I am so there...

  • John says:

    :Dialogue that would make James Cameron cry"
    Ha, you know what's funny about that? Avatar had nothing but generic, cheesy, infantile dialogue. This was one of the worst comparisons you could have made, especially since Cameron laid the path for genre generic so ravishingly prominent in the film industry, starting with action horror, all the way up to genocidal action.
    These reviews are laughable.

  • ned flanders says:

    the trailer is better than the movie

  • Trace says:

    You're not very familiar with literary tropes, are you? Of course James Cameron's dialogue is cheesy and infantile! You don't need to tell HER that! She's using hyperbole to emphasize how bad the dialogue in Battle: LA is: if it would make even James Cameron cry, it probably would make you cry too.

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