Battle: Los Angeles (Columbia Pictures, PG-13)

If you’re the kind of person for whom "they blowed it up real good" is a positive review, you’ll love this film.

 

 

Jonathan Liebesman has carved out a niche directing mid-budget crap films (Darkness Falls, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) that make money. He continues this tradition with Battle: Los Angeles, in which aliens invade the earth in order to steal our dihydrogen monoxide, better known as water. If that sounds like the key plot point from The Man Who Fell to Earth, well, it’s neither the first nor the last recycled idea in Battle: Los Angeles.

The story begins on August 12, 2011. Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has just turned in his retirement papers while other Marines around him (despite being introduced by chyrons, they’re pretty close to interchangeable) are busy planning a wedding, awaiting the birth of a child, and so on. You know this ordinary conduct of human life has to be interrupted, and sure enough the earth is hit by a series of meteor showers that turn out to be an alien invasion. Forget about that retirement, Sergeant, you’re needed—because when it comes to invading space aliens, no one can defend the earth like the Marines.

Considering that the action in Battle: Los Angeles is supposed to be taking place just a few months from now, it’s surprising how calmly everyone takes the news that we’re being invaded by space aliens. I mean, wouldn’t that strike you as just a bit out of the ordinary? Equally surprising, given that these creatures are capable of interplanetary travel, is that both the aliens and their space ship look like something a 10-year-old boy might build with his Erector Set. Fortunately for our side they are humanoid in form, engage in combat in predictable ways and are vulnerable to our conventional weapons. Note to self: before invading another planet, invent some weaponry they’re not already familiar with and think up some effective defenses for the weapons they already have.

If you are troubled by these kinds of issues you are clearly not part of the target market for Battle: Los Angeles. The film’s main goals seem to be:
1.    Blow up as many things as possible.
2.    Keep the action moving so no one has a chance to notice the plot holes.
3.    Get the audience cheering for the Marines, jerk their heartstrings with a tragic death or two, then get them back to cheering again.

By those standards, Battle: Los Angeles works pretty well. It starts out with two potted conflicts—veteran versus rookie commander, and a Marine who holds the veteran commander responsible for the death of his brother—then basically relegates them to little breaks between the battle set-pieces that occupy most of the film. Almost all of this film is shot in shaky-cam close-ups that quickly become annoying, but do have the advantage of looking more real than the CGI-enhanced panoramas of destruction thrown in from time to time.

Despite all the running and shooting and blowing things up, Battle: Los Angeles quickly becomes tedious because everything in it feels absolutely generic; one chase down a dark corridor can be exciting, but the law of diminishing returns quickly sets in. Even the explicit use of one of the oldest plot devices in the book, the ticking clock (the Marines have to clear civilians from an area and then return to their base before a bomb is dropped, and chyrons regularly remind us how much time is remaining), fails to generate much in the way of tension. This is primarily due to the fact that we don’t get to know much about any of the characters, with the partial exception of Nantz (Eckhart deserves a special medal of commendation for putting his heart into the cheesy speeches he has to deliver), so putting them at risk means nothing to us.

If you’re the kind of person for whom "they blowed it up real good" is a positive review, you’ll love this film. The problem is that most adults expect more from their movies—you know, like character development and a story that actually makes sense—and by those standards Battle: Los Angeles falls woefully short. It also taps into a strain of xenophobia that needs no encouragement. But hey, business is business, and I predict Battle: Los Angeles will more than recoup once the international box office numbers are in, because explosions are explosions in any language. | Sarah Boslaugh

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