Battle: Los Angeles (2011) Columbia Pictures
1 hr. 58 mins.
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Pena, Ramon Rodriguez, Ne-Yo, Nzinga Blake, Jim Parrack
Directed by: Jonathan Liebasman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)
Trying to wear many hats is a rather tedious task for director Jonathan Liebasman’s hectic apocalyptic invasion flick Battle: LA. Just what does Liebasman’s heavy-handed actioner want to be viewed as regarding its revolving identity? Is this jingoistic joyride a sci-fi spectacle in the guise of a good old fashion war movie? Is this disjointed epic a theatrical endorsement for a recruitment campaign in the armed services? Maybe this patriotic popcorn pleaser is an elaborate, colorful alien-infested experimentation? Whatever the proposed labeling Battle: LA is a terminally loud and stiff cinematic video game without any discerning insight or intrigue.
Liebasman does provide some visually stimulating input for his hedonistic hybrid of over indulgent sci-fi shenanigans involving the Marines, monsters and missiles. Although gloriously energetic, Battle: LA lacks any motivational punch to convey this over-hyped and boisterous booby trap. While the campy and creative war movies of yesteryear had passion, pride and purpose Liebasman’s numbing narrative screams of convolution, clichés and calculated flourishes of an overextended, braindead blockbuster. In all, Battle: LA is a typically average Battle of the Bulge entertainment with sci-fi leanings and one-dimensional conviction.
A serviceable gun-toting science fiction spectacle at best, Battle: LA has a major conflict with writer Christopher Bertolini’s scattershot scripting. As mentioned previously the film does not know whether it wants to focus its thematic foundation on being a passable sci-fi showcase or concentrating its efforts on coming across as an excitable flag-waving melodrama about military mightiness and prestige. This is a frenzied cornball concoction that clumsily shifts its dramatic sentiments like a drunken driver skidding on a sheet of ice.
This cross-eyed science-fiction/wartime invasion flick pits the Marines against invading aliens sent to Earth as they bombard the vulnerable vicinity of Santa Monica, CA. Thus, the phrase “we’re under attack” becomes the rallying call which pits the weary but dedicated American fighting machine against the nasty creature visitors that want to spoil our way of life and liberty. It’s certainly not nice for those bothersome alien invaders to disrupt the heavy wheeling-and-dealing in that heavenly Hollywood atmosphere, now is it?
The emphasis of this major alien attack on the Los Angeles area revolves around one devoted military man and his gung ho squad. Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is in charge of his outfit as their overall mission is to rescue a group of trapped civilians holed up in a Santa Monica police station as the surrounding aliens are on hand to keep a vigilant watch. Assisting Nantz on this tricky search-and-rescue procedure is 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez).
Naturally, the platoon consists of varied personality prototypes that range from a tough cookie female fighting force in Sgt. Elena Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez) to a disenfranchised black soldier (Nzinga Blake). And what is an effective war movie (and sci-fi showing) without some sense of redemption? In this case, the disillusioned leader Nantz was a mere two weeks away from his retirement when he was called to duty for this alien invasion. It appears that the distant Nantz has something to prove not only for his skeptical comrades but dare we say it…for him as well! As if the pressure isn’t bad enough in tangling with the pesky alien types, ensuring the safety measures of the cornered civilians and overcoming personalized self doubts but Nantz and his armed crew have only a few hours to complete their terrorizing tasks before a mega bomb is dropped and released on the alien life forms in an effort to eradicate them completely. Of course Nantz, the civilians and his colleagues are toast if they cannot get out of there in time before the massive explosion takes place.
Constantly, we are reminded of the on-going intensity as we follow our heroes through shaky held cameras, dank darkness and indistinguishable shadiness. The realization is that the so-called alien invaders are advanced and shrewd in preparation. They may outnumber their human aggressors as their power is quite unpredictable at this point. Can Nantz and his conflicted band of freedom fighters conquer these monstrous menaces before the pending doom claims all of their precious lives?
Disappointingly, Battle: LA never quite sheds its dour outlook when posing awkwardly as an escapist flick pertaining to Marines and monsters. Liebasman oversees a strained sci-fi/war movie that feels open-ended and incomplete. As a wartime fable, the results are dull as we are introduced to a slew of wounded characters we’re asked to embrace with the trivial strife that is tacked on to them for convenience. We are not invested in the soldiers per se-just the stereotypical aspects of their ready-made angst. Unlike the war-oriented ditties of the past and alien invasion cinema from the 50s and 60s, Battle: LA seems so uninspired and wooden. It is so busy juggling genres and spewing trite dialogue that it forgets its realm as a rousing militaristic actioner. There’s never a guilty pleasure in witnessing these Marines blast the bones of these cretins to smithereens or vice versa. When the action calls for such ribaldry then it is nothing more than a knee jerk reaction to blow thing apart just for the giddy sake of manufactured excitement.
In terms of its labored sci-fi significance, the movie is a letdown in its mysterious makeup of the alien tormentors. At first the gradual tease of slowly revealing the creatures’ hideous appearance was somewhat interesting. But more than halfway through the movie when we are finally introduced to the enemy aliens we’re all but beyond the shock value of caring what these cunning cretins are like in physicality or fearful philosophy.
It is a crying shame as Eckhart-an adventurous and reliable actor-deserved better than this stiffened sci-fi actioner to handcuff his performance in a kinetic caper that didn’t know what it wanted in its undefined boundaries…a Black Hawk Down with War of the Worlds trimmings as its unlikely side dish.