Blockbusters, ho! With the American summer sailing ever closer, audiences are bracing themselves for the inevitable onslaught of big-budget features that have made the period so highly anticipated (and feared). Though March releases John Carter and The Hunger Games threatened to kick off proceedings early, they failed; John Carter by not being successful, and The Hunger Games by being significantly smarter than the season’s traditional fare. So welcome aboard Peter Berg‘s Battleship, a suitably brain-dead and super silly action flick based on a classic – but notably plot-free – board game. Weather wise, things are cooling down in Australia rather than heating up; still, the Hawaiian-set Battleship sure feels like summer to me.
Now, don’t read that as an endorsement of the latest motion picture from Hasbro, Inc. Battleship is an early contender for “eye-rollingest film of the year,” such is its unrelenting dumbness and occasional, jarring, unearned seriousness. Although Berg’s directorial fingerprints can be spotted here and there (it would be impossible for a Michael Mann disciple like he to leave no trace at all), Battleship bears a striking resemblance to Michael Bay‘s Transformers series, implying that the true author of all these pictures is the toy company behind them. Hasbro’s track record in the cinematical arts is not great, but they should be applauded for their tireless efforts to find work for supermodels. They deserve to be movie stars too, guys.
John Carter himself, Taylor Kitsch, plays Alex Hopper, a loose cannon with a criminal past who has to be dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood by his brother, naval officer Stone (Alexander Skarsgård). Big bro believes a stint in the Navy will help him man-up, and for the most part, it does. It also affords Alex the opportunity to get close to Samantha (Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover girl Brooklyn Decker), daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson, in little more than a cameo). Before Alex can ask the Admiral for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he gets into a bust-up with a Japanese captain (Tadanobu Asano) in town for the annual war games. The affable rogue is threatened with a dishonourable discharge, and he’ll need to prove himself in spectacular fashion if he wants to keep his place in the fleet. Luckily, depending on how you look at it, aliens crash-land in the very location being trafficked by their ships and begin an assault against the human race. Hopper takes the initiative and leads a bunch of sea-dogs (including Rihanna and Jesse Plemons) against the invaders in an effort to restore his reputation, and, incidentally, save the world.
The special effects are impressive, but they have the Transformian quality of looking expensive and sounding loud without actually depicting anything with clarity. Ironically, the aspect of the project that has been so emphatically mocked since its announcement – the board game connection – is what works best. The scenes in which the crew of the USS John Paul Jones use radar to predict where their enemy might be laying in wait, and bombing them accordingly (with a helpful checkerboard to assist), are the most thrilling by far. However, too much action is of the Alien and The Terminator variety, with the interplanetary intruders stalking the ship’s corridors in a manner that is nowhere near as threatening as in those aforementioned sci-fi classics. I don’t even want to talk about the hunk of time spent on a nearby island in which Samantha, a former officer with bionic legs (real life double amputee Lt. Col. Gregory D. Gadson), and a computer geek (Hamish Linklater) team up to take out a satellite and keep the ETs from “phoning home.” It ain’t fun to watch.
And perhaps that is Battleship‘s biggest crime. Hollywood offers up plenty of easy-to-swallow confectionery, which is absolutely appreciated, provided it’s also entertaining. Berg’s latest doesn’t have much of a sense of discovery when it comes to its alien visitors, and the supposedly high-adrenaline battle sequences feel perfunctory rather than exhilarating. Its scope is fairly limited too. We’re told the universe is at risk, but we spend a lot of time watching concerned people Skype in to conference calls instead of witnessing intergalactic mayhem.
Berg and Kitsch previously collaborated on the TV show Friday Night Lights, and it’s clear Berg knows how to best use his star. Kitsch gets to be more charming and cheeky here than he ever did in Carter. That doesn’t mean Taylor doesn’t have to recite the inane lines from Jon and Erich Hoeber’s screenplay, sadly. More than halfway through proceedings, once nations have been bombarded with extra-terrestrial force and multiple ships have indeed sunk and after the ragtag officers have come face to face with their aggressive enemies, Hooper remarks: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Perception is not his strongest suit.
Battleship arrives in Australian cinemas April 12, 2012.