Let me be clear, I had no intention of seeing Battleship. None whatsoever. But my office in downtown Chicago closed down Monday on account of the prevalent protests for the NATO Summit and I decided to treat my unexpected Monday off like a second Leap Day – as in, a day to do things I would not ordinarily do, to take risks. Thus, I saw Battleship. I explained this to my friend Matt and he exclaimed “Seeing a movie is a risk?” to which I replied “If the movie is Battleship – yes. Yes, it is.”
It opens with a cinematic first: a Meet Cute centered around a chicken burrito, a convenience store break in and a tasering. This is the means by which Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt for the MTV generation, meets sultry Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker, who allows her gigantic hoop earrings to do most of the acting for her). She is, as she must be, the daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson, earning that paycheck without breaking a sweat), who in time becomes Hopper’s commanding officer after Hopper’s less-rebellious brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard) convinces – make that, orders – him to join the navy.
Samantha wants Alex to ask the Admiral for permission to request her hand in marriage but Alex instead gets into an officer’s fight with Capt. Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) who defeated him in a soccer match after Alex unsuccessfully attempted a potential tying penalty kick in extra time while concussed because, seriously, if there is anything the NFL has taught us in recent months it’s that concussions are TOTALLY overrated. (Or am I mis-remembering?) Anyway, this fight is the proverbial last straw. The Admiral is going to kick Alex outta the Navy once for all. Well, after this last Naval training exercise, that is, except, as it must, the exercise goes wrong when a few stylishly computer generated alien ships appear in the Pacific off the coast of Hawaii.
See, these alien ships turn up because a scientific facility on the Islands has sent a transmission to “Planet G”, an earth like planet in another galaxy, and this is “Planet G’s” response because long ago the Czar of Hollywood deemed that all movie aliens must be evil. (Steven Spielberg was able to get around this because he is Steven Spielberg and he is allowed to do whatever he wants.) The aliens attack and take out one ship and the officers of another ship and while the viewer might suspect these are merely gratuitous casualties, they are, in fact, totally necessary so that Lt. Alex Hopper can become Commander Alex Hopper and certify his status as The Main Character.
You might be asking, wait? What about Liam Neeson/Admiral Shane? Unfortunately, the aliens have cleverly thrown up an impenetrable alien-esque shield of some kind around the Islands that locks everyone in and keeps out Admiral Shane and the rest of his fleet. This is problematic for the audience because it prevents Neeson from chewing scenery but brilliant on the part of the aliens because if Neeson had been allowed inside the shield he would have ended this movie in about 45 minutes.
As it is, newly christened Commander Hopper and Capt. Nagata become best pals to show that sixty years post-Pearl Harbor Americans and Japanese can get along while they gain crucial assistance from Raikes (Rhianna, a non-alcoholic Michelle Rodriguez) and Ord (Jesse Plemons) who discovers the aliens’ inevitable weakness through inevitably ludicrous means. Meanwhile, back on land, Samantha, still with gigantic hoop earrings, is helping retired Lt. Mick (Gregory D. Gadson) learn how to walk on his prosthetic legs up a scenic mountain so they can run into scientist Cal (Hamish Linklater) who never wanted to send the alien transmission in the first place so they can join together to assist in stopping the aliens from communicating with other aliens to initiate the process of global destruction. I think. I was often laughing too hard to catch the plot intricacies.
Make no mistake, Battleship is way too long and drags terribly, particularly in the latter half of its first act. Kitsch makes Freddie Prinze Jr. look charismatic. There are more than a few moments when director Peter Berg seems to rip shots directly from Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. Its mere existence points us down a path of, say, Chutes and Ladders……with aliens. (Also, did Barack Obama actually know he was in this movie? Did the White House clear it?) But……the film’s lone scene specifically referencing the Battleship board game itself is decently done and, even more so, when the third act kicks into gear it actually, improbably enters the realm of absurdist fun.
In keeping with the spirit of the namesake of their own ship – the USS John Paul Jones – the crew is forced to abandon for a different ship, a different ship whose identity and crew members I will not give away except to say that 1.) The Greatest Generation still has some chutzpah and 2.) Momentarily the viewer will be forgiven for thinking Mel Brooks and company have blundered onto the wrong set a la Blazing Saddles and taken over. It is so atrociously unbelievable and so unbelievably atrocious I cannot fathom that Berg did not know what he was doing. Then again, he is probably not deserving of the benefit of the doubt. Either way, he conjures up the single worst slow motion shot your life and our children’s lives and takes us on an escalating ride that ends by converging four different bits all at once with the requisite explosions.
I have to admit, I felt a lot like Admiral Shane felt in that final scene when Alex tried to garner the nerve to again try and ask for Samantha’s hand in marriage. (Spoiler alert!) The Admiral clearly thought this was stupid. He clearly wanted to say no. But he gave in nonetheless. That’s how I felt about the whole of Battleship.
It’s not good. God, no. But it wasn’t bad. Let’s call it the best movie about aliens based on a board game this year.