By Bob Garver
My mom used to make a home version of the game “Battleship” for me and my brother. She would draw the 10×10 grids on paper, and we’d put down Xs for misses and Os for hits. She knew that she didn’t need to spend ten bucks on a plastic “Battleship” game and Universal Pictures should have known better than to spend over $200 million on a “Battleship” movie. The film was a joke before it opened because of the studio throwing so much money at a project based on a simple board game. Also, the advertising for the film invoked “Transformers”; undeniably a successful franchise but one with films that are regarded as some of the worst of our era. “Transformers” can afford to have bad movies because it already has a fanbase of people who love the toys and cartoons. “Battleship” does not have a comparable audience of people who like guessing coordinates, so it’s a bad idea to use the same strategy and not even pretend to be a good movie.
The film stars Taylor Kitsch as Lt. Alex Hopper, a slacker forced into naval service by his more responsible brother Cdr. Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard). Alex hits rock bottom when he breaks into a convenience store to steal a chicken burrito for the beautiful Samantha (Brooklyn Decker). He ends up trashing the place, and for the rest of the film I couldn’t see him as anything more than a no-good vandal. He does succeed in winning Samantha’s heart, but now he has to answer to his brother, the Navy, and Samantha’s father (Liam Neeson), an admiral who happens to be Alex’s boss. Alex gets in a fight and is told he will be kicked out of the Navy after his ship gets back from a training mission. Wouldn’t you know it, right in the middle of the mission, the planet is invaded by aliens. It’s up to the unreliable Alex to save the world.
The aliens are the kind I don’t like. All they do is fly around in their spaceships and blow stuff up. In the brief glimpses we do get of them (they’re usually wearing helmets so the film can save money on rendering their faces of all things), they just snarl. It’s bad enough that they’re evil and destructive, did they have to make boring villains too? There’s a hint of a sort of weird morality where they won’t attack individual humans who don’t pose a threat, but they will destroy massive structures containing humans if they see fit. If the film had cared to develop the aliens as characters, I might have cared to watch the humans fight them.
Most of “Battleship”s cast will recover. Alexander Skarsgard and Brooklyn Decker in always in magazines that have photos of attractive people, they’ll continue to get roles on their looks alone. Liam Neeson is still respected despite his weird reinvention as an action movie star. Rihanna (inexplicably cast in a straight role, probably just so the film can put her in the ads) of course has her music career. But pity poor Taylor Kitsch. In less than three months, he’s starred in “John Carter” and now this. “John Carter” was one of the biggest box-office disasters of all time, early reports indicate that “Battleship” isn’t going to do well either. I’m sure he’s a charming guy off camera, but he keeps playing these unlikeable protagonists that drag down already-bad movies. The main character of your blockbuster shouldn’t be someone that I find so irritating that I root against them. I know “Transformers” succeeded in spite of every one of its human characters, but “Battleship” is lying to itself if it thinks it has that kind of commercial appeal.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
“Battleship” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language. Its running time is 131 minutes.