REVIEW: Kaboom! Battleship Explodes With Dumb, Dizzy Aplomb
Some days you just need to see, as SCTV’s Farm Film Report guys Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok used to put it, stuff blowed up real good. If you’re having one of those days, Peter Berg’s Battleship is as good a choice as any. Beyond that, you should know a few things going in: Battleship is allegedly based on the Hasbro game of the same name, but never in the film is the line “You sunk my battleship!” uttered, so don’t expect a refund. Also, one of the invading aliens – spoiler, sorry! – looks a little like the guy from that ’90s Swedish band Stakka Bo.
Now you’re ready for Battleship. Or maybe you’re not. Actually, the picture is perhaps not quite as painful as you might be expecting, though probably not as enjoyable, either. Plotwise, it’s as reasonably well-executed as these messes generally are. Actor-director Berg has made a few not wholly uninteresting films in the past (Hancock, The Kingdom), and while it’s easy enough to compare Battleship cavalierly with a Michael Bay movie, Berg does have a few more brain cells to work with, and here and there in Battleship they twinkle admirably. Also, the picture features a not entirely soulless specimen of beefcake, Taylor Kitsch, veteran of the TV show Friday Night Lights (which was created by Berg, adapted from the movie of the same name, which he directed). Kitsch wasn’t half-bad in the unjustly maligned John Carter, which only proves that we prefer to blast aliens to oblivion rather than land inexplicably on their planets and fall in love with their princesses. What that says about us as a people I prefer not to contemplate.
Kitsch is quite winning in Battleship, a believable human presence in the midst of lots of metal stuff getting blasted to smithereens. His character is a young ne’er-do-well named Alex Hopper who, in one of the movie’s early scenes, scores a burrito for a good-looking (and hungry) blonde after the local watering hole has closed its kitchen. That blonde, played by Brooklyn Decker, also happens to be the daughter of stern bigwig Admiral Shane (played, with convincing stoniness, by Liam Neeson). And when Alex is forced by his more responsible brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgård) to join the Navy – Stone hopes it’ll straighten his goofball brother out – Alex of course runs afoul of Admiral Shane. All of this is before alien forces from an Earth-a-like planet called Planet G send their well-armed minions to wreak death and destruction, focusing chiefly on Hawaii, where they hope to take over a state-of-the-art interplanetary communications outpost.
Dizzy yet? Just wait until the big graphite Planet G thingie lands in the ocean just off Hawaii, where Alex’s ship is engaged in some fun-for-all, low-risk naval maneuvers. Alex actually boards the thingie as Petty Officer Cora “Weps” Raikes (Rihanna) looks on, training a big gun on it just in case. It’s not giving too much away to tell you that massive kabooms ensue – among the weapons in the alien arsenal are flaming rondelles that saw through metal as if it were chunks of butter – to the point where the explosions become an abstraction: There are so many of them they begin to mean nothing.
Have I mentioned the subplot in which a veteran with two prosthetic legs — played by Gregory D. Gadson, a real-life soldier and double amputee — reclaims his lost pride? Gadson brings a great deal of conviction to the role, and Berg uses his metal limbs as a great punchline to an alien-related joke. Other supporting players don’t fare as well: Rihanna has the face of a tough little streetcat, appealing and self-reliant, but the movie gives her very little to do (other than hold that big gun).
The finest section of Battleship may be the last 20 minutes, the point at which the movie’s title begins to make some semblance of sense. (Note that what follows constitutes a spoiler, so stop reading here if you're sensitive to such things.) It’s at that point that a real-life World War II-era ship, the U.S.S. Missouri, stationed at Pearl Harbor, is pressed into action against the alien forces. The hotshot young soldiers do not, of course, know how to work the thing — it’s all analog, and they're digital as heck. Luckily, there are a bunch of geezer vets on hand, and they’re thrilled to have a chance to spring to action.
The last section of Battleship is sort of like Antiques Roadshow meets Armageddon, albeit with way too much of the latter and not nearly enough of the former. But at least it brings a low-tech, human touch to a picture whose special effects, skillful as they are, are so excessive that after a while they just stop registering. Early in the film, a character makes a distinction between a battleship and a destroyer. A destroyer is designed to "dish it out like the Terminator." Battleships, on the other hand, are "dinosaurs." It’s funny that Battleship is ostensibly based on such a supremely simple, elegant and satisfying board game. As movies go, it's really more of a destroyer. It's entertainment as punishment, or perhaps the other way around.