Film Review: At least no one said, “You sank my battleship!”

Producers looking for board games that can be adapted into movies will find an abundance of choice. Just think, Snakes and Ladders starring Samuel L. Jackson (“You’re going the f–k down!”). Or Malarky, the story of Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian’s wedding.

For now, audiences have Battleship, a booming, brainless blockbuster based on the 1967 guessing game. Let’s see how the movie fares in a game against itself:

G1  The plot is your average alien invasion story. In 2006, humans built a satellite to contact life on other planets. When we get an answer from Planet G, our relationship is, as one character describes it, like “Columbus and the Indians.” Guess who we are? Because if they zoomed here in sea turtle-like Transformers and we haven’t been to the moon since 1972, it’s likely game over for Earth. Hit

G4  Or is it? Taylor Kitsch has already proven that people can match Martians in John Carter. In Battleship, he comes sporting Carter’s shaggy locks to play Alex Hopper, a 26-year-old consummate screw-up who breaks into a store to steal a burrito for a girl named Sam (Brooklyn Decker). He gets the girl and joins the Navy; but he remains stubborn, reckless and irresponsible, which angers his older brother, Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård) and Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). Never fear: Hopper redeems himself by, yes, saving the world. (Bonus point to screenwriting brothers Erich and Jon Hoeber for giving their action hero a personal, though contrived, journey.) Hit

H9  Bonus point lost for making Hopper say things like, “We’re all going to die … just not today.” Or having him respond to criticism that an almost 70-year-old battleship is a useless relic with: “Not today.” Meanwhile, Commander Stone’s brotherly scolding — “Who do I call to teach you humility? I’m sorry, I don’t have that number” — might be considered clever. But, not today. Miss

E3  Villains are as important as heroes. Minus their shiny machines or space armour, the aliens look, well, like us. They’re upright walkers with straight teeth (Planet G must have good dental care), but they have reptilian pupils and facial hair so spiky that a head-butt could poke your eyes out. To our credit, we have five fingers versus their four, so we’d be better piano players. The aliens are indistinguishable, personality-deficient drones. Miss

A2  One word. Rihanna. Miss

F8  Aside from Rihanna as Petty Officer Cora Raikes (she wields an umbrella with more conviction than a rifle), the supporting cast of soldiers are believable warriors. The most convincing perhaps is real-life U.S. Army Colonel Gregory D. Gadson, who lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq. In his film debut, he plays Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, a double amputee and pounder of alien faces. When he talks, with his face in extreme close-up, you feel like you could be watching a documentary. The film is a flashy, extended recruitment commercial for the U.S. Navy; it also honours veterans with a scene where they answer a call to arms. Cue AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. Hit

B2  All of the action is accompanied by a score seemingly inspired by a cruise ship blaring its horn followed by a drum beat. Deep horn. Drum beat. Deep horn. Drum beat. Annoyingly effective. Hit

J6  Inevitably, while the sailors and aliens are battling off the Hawaii coast, statesmen surround a circular table repeating the situation for the kids in the audience — or the adults whose brains have melted from CGI overload, starting with: “So, you’re saying …” Miss

I9  The only smart person in the movie is the cowardly scientist Cal (Hamish Linklater). He’s the guy you’re most likely going to be in an invasion. The guy who runs and hides when the aliens take over his communication post to phone home. The guy who, in response to a hero’s brave declaration, blurts out: “Who talks like that?!?” Hit

C4  Hopper’s destroyer and two other ships are engaged in military exercises when the alien vessels enclose them within a dome-like forcefield. Fortunately, Captain Yugi Nagata (Japanese star Tadanobu Asano) figures out how to secretly strike their enemies using a grid system … hey, just like in the game! Unfortunately, the aliens counter with metal-munching balls that bust blocks, buildings, ships, planes, highways and helicopters in scenes where director Peter Berg is channelling Michael Bay. To stay true to Hasbro’s game, Hopper borrows the USS Missouri, a Second World War battleship at Pearl Harbor; the ship comes complete with a vintage crew and, inexplicably, a full stock of ammunition. As Rihanna so convincingly, says: “Boom.” Hit

The fun of this film is that stuff explodes. Expect anymore and you lose.

2 stars.

This review was originally published in the National Post May 17, 2012.

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