Sunday, May 20, 2012

Battleship / ** (PG-13)

Lieutenant Alex Hooper: Taylor Kitsch
Commander Stone Hooper: Alexander Skarsgård
Petty Officer Cora ‘Weps’ Raikes: Rihanna
Samantha Shane: Brooklyn Decker
Captain Yugi Nagata: Tadanobu Asano
Cal Zapata: Hamish Linklater
Chief Petty Officer Walter ‘The Beast’ Lynch: John Tui
Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales: Gregory D. Gadson
Boatswain Mate Seaman Jimmy ‘Ordy’ Ord: Jesse Plemons
Dr. Nogrady: Adam Godley
Secretary of Defense: Peter MacNicol
Admiral Shane: Liam Neeson

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Peter Berg. Written by Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber. Based on the Hasbro board game. Running time: 131 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language).

Anytime you see a movie based on a board game that had no storyline to begin with, you’re going to be a bit skeptical. However, Hasbro has already found success bringing their popular toy line Transformers to the big screen. I suppose it’s no surprise then that the storyline they invented for “Battleship” involves a race of aliens that plan to take over the Earth with highly advanced machine technology. That makes me wonder about the other board games they plan to bring to life on screen, like Monopoly. Is that going to involve aliens taking over the planet with machines that will fix Wall Street?

What “Battleship” has that “Transformers” lacks is story and character development. I’m afraid that still doesn’t make it a worth while experience, but it’s infinitely better than the last “Transformers” movie. First, we get the obligatory science fiction opening where we learn that scientists have fool heartedly sent a message out into space with a slingshot satellite that will allow the message to reach the nearest planet with Earth’s same basic atmospheric and environmental conditions. So, when these conquistadors arrive, they’ll be able to survive in our atmosphere. That’s always a good thing when summoning a potentially hostile alien race to the planet.

Then we meet two brothers in a bar. The older brother is squared away and trying to convince the younger brother to abandon his misguided ways and find a job. Alexander Skarsgård (of HBO’s “True Blood”) cleans up well to play Stone Hooper, a destroyer commander in the U.S. Navy. Taylor Kitsch has given up his alien chasing ways of “John Carter” to chase very attractive, hungry women in bars. This Meet Cute with the hungry woman turns into another of Alex Hooper’s catastrophes when he promises the woman to get her a burrito even though the bar’s kitchen is closed along with the convenience store next door. We then see security footage of Alex falling through the ceiling of the convenience store in an effort to get that burrito. I have to admit, I really like Kitsch. I did not watch “Friday Night Lights” on television, but the kid really seems to have a star quality about him. I hope his first two leading motion picture roles don’t define the rest of his career.

In two of the many ridiculous sequences of events in the movie, the burrito incident leads to Alex capturing the heart of Samantha (Brooklyn Decker, “Just Go With It”), who also happens to be the Admiral’s daughter; and it results in Alex joining the Navy. His rank once the story starts up again, seems unlikely given his character. I find it hard to believe that someone so resistant to authority could be third in command of a Naval destroyer after what appears to be mere months of enlistment. I imagine this is one of those military focused movies that could send actual military men reeling on the movie theater floor with laughter over the practices depicted in it.

Then the alien response comes in the form of five ships descending from the heavens into the Pacific just off Oahu. In a completely unnecessary development one of the ships is damaged during its entry into our atmosphere and breaks apart in the sky. Who am I kidding? This is completely necessary to give the audience the obligatory destruction scene of an international landmark. This time it’s Hong Kong that gets wiped out by the debris. Do the writers have a chart of all the cities that have already been destroyed in previous alien invasion movies? Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber (the writing team behind “Red”) plot their story around this destroyed ship, but not in a way that makes its existence necessary.

Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) doesn’t make the same mistake of so many special effects action directors. He doesn’t shred his film into little bits and then put it back together into incomprehensible 2-second shots where the audience has no idea what’s happening. Nor does he rush into his story to create a false sense of mystery about it. He takes his time and develops his characters. While this makes for a more enjoyable movie experience, I wonder if he needed a little more story for his style. He seems to repeat many of his points, especially about Alex’s anti-authority behavior. We see it in his opening scene. We see it in a soccer game. We see it when he’s late to a dedication ceremony. We see it in a fight with a Naval games opponent. And, Liam Neeson (“The A-Team”), as Admiral Shane, highlights this behavior in every conversation he has with the boy. We get it. He’s a screw up. Move on.

Ultimately, “Battleship” accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. It gives us a special effects extravaganza with a rouge hero who saves the day. It doesn’t transcend its goals, however; and it isn’t clever about the way it sets up its fairly ridiculous premise. It’s more than I ever would’ve expected in a movie based on a board game, but it’s less than what I expect from my summer blockbuster fare. If anything, this new trend of board games-to-movies will take the heat off video games-to-movies as the least adaptable concept Hollywood ever came up with.

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