Tuesday, April 15, 2014

When You Don't Need Another Player To Sink Your Battleship

Everything about this poster is awkward.

The likenesses between Transformers, Halo, and Battleship-the movie are many, the differences hard to glean, but there is one key distinction between the first two franchises and the last film, whose infamously red box-office gross virtually dispelled all hopes at securing a future franchise: no matter the reputation they may inculcate among some circles for being insipid male fantasies, Transformers and Halo actually have intricately shaped universes and histories which have been developed and expanded over the decade(s) through many media.  Battleship is a strategy board-game from Hasbro which doesn’t even feature a basic plot, and as such it forced the filmmakers to imagine one of their own in order to prolong the run time from 10 minutes to 130.  This, along with the horrible acting, jerky cinematography, repetitive action, and art design ranging from uninspired to downright goofy, is the main source of Battleship-the movie’s troubles.  At its worst moments it comes across as a clichéd boy-meets-girl tale that awkwardly collided with an equally clichéd crowd-pleaser about the selfish lowlife who discovers a purpose and evolves into a higher being when he goes to war.  At the film’s best moments, sitting through Battleship-the movie appropriately feels (to pull another cliché myself) like watching a ‘friend’ so absorbed in a flashy video game that he won’t even pause to let you join him.

Taylor Kitsch, a Channing Tatum-lookalike whom you may recognize from Friday Night Lights, John Carter, and nothing else since that and Battleship-the movie*, plays a soulless slacker dude with long hair named Hopper.  One day he falls for a blond swimsuit model chick whilst hanging out in a bar, but all his adoration appears to be in vain because the script never calls for her to wear anything less than half a swimsuit on camera, a revelation which kind of defeats the only point to hiring a supermodel for a role instead of a proper actress.  Regardless of this, Hopper ignores his drinking bro’s wiser counsel and decides on a whim to waste his sole birthday wish on getting the attention of Brooklyn Decker Sam, which he succeeds in doing by a protracted sequence that involves messily breaking into a convenience store that closed minutes earlier and fleeing the scene with a chicken burrito in hand for his newly beloved.  Sprawled out on the cement from multiple taser shocks, he still manages to deliver it to her with one outstretched arm, and she can’t help but smile at his bravery, stupidity, or lawlessness – whatever it may be, this is what passes for humor in Battleship-the movie.

After zipping through a lot of needless exposition and an extended soccer game that serves to introduce us to Rihanna’s character, whose fictional name I don’t remember, the space alien vessels we’ve been waiting for finally emerge from the ocean depths after arriving to earth in a Transformers-like scene, and the onus is on now-Navy Lieutenant Hopper’s shoulders to fend off the invaders he himself awakened by touching the giant spire of unknown origin and chemical makeup (as one character explains, it’s not even on the periodic table of elements.  Woah!  Funny how that’s always the case in sci-fi movies.).  These aliens are certainly more benign than most others that have visited our planet, as their one completely unexplained directive is to destroy everything mechanical or manmade in sight, except for the hillside satellites, which are somehow really important to their war effort.  The only living organisms they see fit to exterminate are those operating mechanical technology, starting of course with the U.S. fleet.  Though the movie often feels like it’s based entirely on the water, it does in point of fact take several relieving detours to the tropical landscapes of Oahu, where the supermodel girlfriend and a real-life wounded warrior sidekick (a laudable tribute, if not a great casting pick) are hard-beset by heavily armored E.T.s, and eventually to the control room of Hopper’s ship, where he and his crewmates exchange blind shots with the enemy’s crafts by looking at a screen and calling out coordinates.  It’s just like the board game, see!  And it’s almost as exciting, at that.  Are the dots on the chart going to hit or miss a target?  Is the grid really a subtle metaphor for the movie itself?

Anyone who’s played Battleship-the game knows that the miss-to-hit ratio is usually on the miss-heavy side, and so it is with Battleship-the movie.  If there’s one hit in this overlong CGI fest, it would be the brief cut in the trailer where the giant metal ball of destruction barrels right underneath the military helicopter, seemingly to miss it completely, then unexpectedly whips out some kind of blade from its heart that neatly sever the chopper’s tail, bringing it to the ground in a fiery death.  This is probably the only shot in the film that lives up to the standards of cinematic staging which Michael Bay continues to set through the visually similar but much more dynamic Transformers series.  For all the flack that he receives from critics, Bay is incredibly good at directing the kind of movies he’s recognized for, and each one of his special effects-ridden explosion-fests offers just enough variety in action and setting to retain the audience’s interest throughout several hours of mostly non-stop mayhem.  Battleship-the movie, on the other hand, is more of a one-note affair; warships repeatedly shoot torpedoes at one another, warships intercept torpedoes with even more torpedoes, and warships blow up over and over again.  What few diversions the movie makes from this formula mostly consist of humans shooting the utterly idiotic-looking, goateed aliens while rattling off one-liners like:

“Do you think this could be some kind of super-secret Navy exercise?  Because if it is, they’ve gone way too far!”

“My dad said they’d come.  He said it his whole life.  He said we ain’t alone. He said one day, either we’d find them, or they’d find us…”

“We’re going to die!”
“We are going to die.  You’re going to die, I’m going to die, we’re all going to die…” (guess what comes next)

“Mahalo, mother- *boom*” (this gag is used twice for good measure)

Steve Jablonsky’s musical score sounds like a bunch of tracks rehashed from the work he did on Transformers, with a lot of Inception bwaaahs and electronic humming thrown in just to pass it off as an original recording.  AC/DC’s Thunderstruck eventually makes an appearance to break the monotony, but it’s far from sufficient to redeem the tedium of staying awake through the whole of this picture.  I don’t remember hearing a single violin on the soundtrack, nor can I point to many segments around the middle of the picture that didn’t look like they were mostly composed on a computer.

Too bad the whole movie isn’t like this.

It goes without saying that the U.S. Navy deserves a far better recruiting commercial than Battleship-the movie.  The really scary thought isn’t the prospect of watching American soldiers beat up comically ugly aliens in a Battleship sequel; given the movie’s $130M shortfall in domestic gross, that nightmare is fairly beyond the scope of possibility.  What’s really scary is the knowledge that these blokes will soon be butchering such literary and artistic masterpieces as Missile Command and Asteroids.  Is nothing sacred anymore in Hollywood?  Have we truly drained ourselves so thoroughly of originality and imagination that we must resort to robbing classic games for film concepts?  My battleship is sunk… now I’m going to see if I can pass the eleventh level of Missile Command.  My father’s generation’s Skyrim, but only ten times as difficult.

Grade rating: Much as the monster that’s under your bed, it unapologetically wards away the life-renewing rains of rational thought like an umbrella of stupidity.  Its visuals shine bright like a diamond but are wholly devoid of deeper substance, and you will be screaming for someone to please stop the music long before it’s over.  To stay through it all is an exercise in S&M, and it would be readily disposable even if it was the only movie (in the world).  So shut up and drive far away from any theater, rental store, or other hopeless place that distributes this drivel, this loud drunken disgrace of a good film gone bad, reloaded with chest-pumping, generically patriotic cheesiness and rated R for revolting.

All of which is to say, “C minus.”

* For accuracy’s sake I just fact-checked my sarcastic generalization and found that Kitsch did indeed play one of the non-surviving Navy Seals in Lone Survivor early this year, which was also directed by Peter Berg and actually made quite a bit of money for its budget, though I’ve yet to verify if it was any good.

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