Have you ever wondered what it would be like to set $200 million on fire? Imagine taking a lighter to a mountain of crisp new dollar bills, enough money to feed a small nation say, and watch them all catch light before your startled eyes.
Would it be exciting or just deeply depressing? Would you want to stick around to watch it all burn? Or would you want to slap the person who dared to attempt it repeatedly? Thanks to Battleship, the new sci-fi war at sea film that opens on Friday, I now have a pretty good idea of how I’d react to this particular scenario.
Battleship opens with all the subtlety of a slap to the groin with a 10-pound lump hammer. In fact a blow from a lump hammer would probably have more subtlety. Those boffins at NASA, or some such U.S. space exploration organization, have developed a new satellite that sends out a welcome beacon to the universe that we (as in we the people of Earth) are here.
Before you can say pilgrims and Indians, a shadowy alien world is sending an advance guard of creepy looking lizard men to earth to determine if we’re worth invading. These aliens, we quickly discover, aren’t terrifically pleasant.
In fact there’s nothing they appear to like better than blowing humans up with their vastly superior firepower and frightening alien technology. After the first few demonstrations of what they’ve got under their high tech hoods it looks like they’ll be taking over the planet before you can say, “We surrender.”
The man standing between Armageddon and us is, wouldn’t you know, an unlikely hero with an attitude problem, but whose heart is still in the right place. I don’t really know what more to say about this walking cinematic cliché because the script doesn’t either.
We learn that he’s a mid-twenties directionless burnout, and minutes later he’s inexplicably Lieutenant Alex Hopper aboard a Navy battleship (this movie hopes you won’t care how his fortunes changed and boy, you really won’t).
Before the aliens arrive on the scene we watch as Alex repeatedly tries to prove himself to his better looking and better organized brother Stone Hopper (yes, that is his name). It occurred to me to wonder if they were soon to encounter their plucky younger brother Claude Hopper, but that would have been funny and this film doesn’t do funny.
Alex Hopper and Stone Hopper (Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgard) meet to celebrate Alex’s birthday at the bar when a leggy blond name Sam (Brooklyn Decker) arrives in search of a chicken burrito. I’m not making this up.
It’s late and the barkeep has called time on food service so, in a sudden quest to win the girl, Alex breaks into a nearby convenience store and leaves a few bucks on the table, smiling up at the rows of closed circuit cameras as the police arrive.
This is -- there is no other way to say this -- stupid stuff. If a man you just met broke into a store to bring you a microwaved burrito I’m guessing your reaction wouldn’t be, “Oh my goodness, he’s super cute.”
Soon the cops arrive to taser Alex for his idiotic efforts, and before you can say that this kid really needs to reevaluate his life path, he’s inexplicably a decorated lieutenant in the Navy (where a criminal record doesn’t preclude a stellar career, apparently).
The chicken burrito lady turns out to be Admiral Shane’s (Liam Neeson) daughter. Well, it could happen, I suppose. Lots of leggy blond admiral’s daughters visit honky tonk bars on their own after midnight in search of chicken burritos, right?
Alex falls hard for the chicken burrito lady, and he frets about the prospect of asking Admiral Shane for her hand. At this point you could write a mini thesis about all the psychosexual thickets spreading outward throughout this ridiculous film.
Alex wants the burrito lady’s love, but he also wants his brother Stone’s love, and he also wants Admiral Shane’s blessing (which is, when you think of it, an approximation of love).
So Alex wants a lot of love, but in order to earn it we realize he’s going to have to kill things. Way to craft a message, Hollywood.
The first hour of Battleship lunges about from scene to charmless scene, in search of a compelling storyline that never actually takes shape. Director Peter Berg seems to passionately believe that action is always louder than the words (or a coherent script), so he prefers to let all of his flying missiles do the talking for him.
I admit it this could make for two hours of mindless fun, except it becomes clear early on that Berg prefers explosions to fun. I have never before witnessed so much global destruction within one 60-minute period (and that was just the first hour of this overblown spectacle). It’s explosion porn, and it’s easily the most extreme produced this year.
Neeson appears onscreen less and less as the second hour of the story finally takes shape. Earth is outgunned and outclassed by invading aliens; all of the Navy’s top ships have been destroyed. The only hope is to knock out the orbiting satellite that allows the invaders to communicate with their home planet with the only battleship left in the harbor, the 70-year-old USS Missouri.
Helpfully, the 80-year-old former sailors who once manned the ship have all inexplicably assembled on the dock in their old uniforms. They have also had the good sense to frame their unexpected appearance behind a massive stars and stripes from the maximum patriotic impact. Naturally they 1980s metal music greets their arrival.
By this stage it’s clear that the director has either lost control of the story, or his mind, and he has decided to make a virtue of it. Who better to repel the invading hordes but the last centurions of the Greatest Generation?
The only people missing from the final confrontation are Lassie, the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon and possibly Wonder Woman. Everyone else has presented for duty in the embarrassingly jingoistic go-USA finale.
A word about pop star Rihanna, who plays Petty Officer Cora Raikes, in this absurd stew of cinematic clichés. She can act, and perhaps one day if given a decent script she’ll have an opportunity to. In Battleship she simply has to launch bombs, doge bombs and star in a bomb.
Battleship cost a reported $200 million to make, and it stars world-class actors like Neeson and Japan’s Tadanobu Asano, who acquit themselves with as much dignity as people in epic explosions can muster.
I hope that at least several of the millions this film burned have enriched Neeson’s bank account. It’s too depressing to contemplate where the rest went.
Battleship - Official Trailer