Sunday, May 27, 2012


Anything can happen in science fiction.  The $200-million, sci-fi spectacle “Battleship” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) is as implausible as it is predictable.  Nevertheless, despite its contrivance and familiarity, this outlandish, larger-than-life, PG-13 rated, juvenile extravaganza will keep you entertained for most of its lengthy 131 minutes.  The anemic end credits scene isn’t worth waiting around for but it does assure us about the prospect of a sequel.  If you accept the proposition that pugnacious aliens from another galaxy would attack Earth, then none of “Battleship” is far-fetched.  The chief problem is predictability.  “Battleship” is a contemporary “War of the Worlds” knock-off set on the high seas.  Of course, the U.S. Navy defeats these hostile extraterrestrials, with a little help from a former Asian adversary.  “Friday Night Lights” director Peter Berg rehabilitates the Japanese for “Battleship.”  A Japanese naval officer figures out how to locate the aliens after the heroes lose radar.  An attractive cast, scenic Hawaiian settings, and the theme of diversity make “Battleship” rewarding for those who thrive on this brand of cheesy Saturday morning flotsam.  Anybody who knows anything about ships knows you couldn’t execute the maneuvers that the U.S.S. Missouri pulls off.  The fantastic Industrial Light and Magic’s computer-generated imagery compensates considerably for the corny, formulaic plot.   The alien warships are impressive, and one of their weapons—a blazing yo-yo that can eat through metal like a blow torch through butter--makes things appear dire.  Neither Liam Neeson nor pop singer Rihanna are given enough screen time to make much of an impression.

“Red” scribes Jon and Erich Hoeber along with Berg deserve top marks for their imaginative adaptation of the venerable Milton Bradley board game.  For the record, this two person game predates World War I and the opponents must guess the location of their enemy’s ships.  The Hoebers open “Battleship” in 2005 with the revelation that NASA (keep those funds coming) has found a "Goldilocks planet" similar to Earth in a nearby galaxy.  We use a powerful, sophisticated satellite to beam a radio signal to Planet G.  One geeky scientist raises questions about this strategy. "This could be like Columbus and the Indians, except we're the Indians.”  Predictably, these dastardly devils dispatch a reconnaissance force to investigate Earth.  Unfortunately, for these fellows who all resemble “Hellboy’s” Ron Pearlman with reptilian eyes, things do not proceed as planned.  Five ships invade Earth.  One smashes into an orbiting satellite and crashes into the skyscrapers of Hong Kong.  Now, the aliens have no way to call home.  The remaining four starships plunge into the Pacific Ocean. This occurs about the same time that the U.S. Navy and 13 other countries are embarking on RIMPAC.  Otherwise known as the Rim of the Pacific Naval Exercise, this bi-annual war games constitutes the world's largest international maritime task.  You can see how the Hoebers and Berg used the board game as a jumping off point. 

The first flaw afflicting “Battleship” is its bland humans.  Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch of “John Carter”) qualifies as the usual underdog hero.  Basically, Alex sleeps on his brother’s couch and mooches off him.  He gets into trouble on his 26th birthday when he befriends a drop-dead gorgeous blonde, Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker of “Just Go with It”), at a bar.  An obnoxious barkeeper informs Samantha, as he shuts the door to a microwave, that the kitchen is closed.  Alex sidles up to our heroine and promises to deliver a chicken burrito in five minutes.  Initially, Alex discovers the convenience store across the street has just closed for the evening.  Resourceful fellow that Alex is, he breaks into the store, snatches a chicken burrito, nukes it, leaves money for it on the counter, and then makes a less-than-graceful exit.  Berg depicts these tongue-in-cheek antics from the perspective of the store’s surveillance cameras with Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther” theme accentuating the humor.  The Honolulu Police taser Alex twice for his gallantry.  Naturally, Alex’s older brother Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard of “Straw Dogs.”) isn’t amused.  Stone wants to join the Navy.  The revelation that Samantha is the daughter of U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson of “The Grey”) infuriates Stone.  Consequently, Stone coerces Alex to join the Navy, too.  

Seven years elapse. Stone commands the USS Sampson, while Alex serves as Tactical Action Officer aboard the destroyer USS John Paul Jones.  Samantha and Alex are still dating, much to Admiral Shane’s chagrin.  During a soccer match between the U.S. Navy and the Japanese, a Japanese player kicks Alex in the face by accident.  Long story short, this mischief forges bad blood between the two, and they tangle later and are reprimanded.  Admiral Shane warns Alex that his seagoing days may be numbered.  Cue the aliens to crash into the Pacific, wipe out a warship, and deploy an impregnable shield that encloses both the Sampson and the John Paul Jones.  Worse things ensue, but our hero redeems himself. 
The second flaw is the aliens aren’t as scary as their counterparts either in “Alien” or “Predator.”  These look-alike Mighty Morphin Power Rangers neither bleed sulfuric acid nor are they half as aggressive as the arachnids in “Starship Troopers.”  They boast some top-notch equipment, but their arsenal looks suspiciously similar to our Navy.  Mind you, these extraterrestrials are light years ahead of us in space travel and firepower.  Their massive, chrome-plated, shape-shifting, aerodynamic vessels come armed with the equivalent of hedgehop ordnance to rain down destruction on their adversaries.  Meantime, the U.S. Navy responds with their standard weapons and defeat the enemy because our heroes correctly guess where the aliens are.  The trailers make “Battleship” look like “Transformers” on water, but the aliens amount to far less intimidating adversaries with an Achilles’ heel that sinks them.  These aliens don’t bother to introduce themselves like the invaders in “The Day The Earth Stood Still” movies.  They present mankind with no ultimatums.  Indeed, they never talk.  

Vulnerable alien invaders, stereotypical human heroes, and predictible scripting nearly torpedo “Battleship.”