Movie review: Brainless action sinks ‘Battleship’
By Sean P. Means
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published May 17 2012 03:26PM
What happens when you make a Michael Bay movie without Michael Bay? Director Peter Berg tries his darndest to do that in "Battleship," creating a confounding mix of Bay’s "Transformers," "Armageddon" and "Pearl Harbor" that matches the bombast and stupidity of all three.
The action starts in Hawaii, as headstrong Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, now 0-for-2 after this and the box-office failure of "John Carter") argues with his brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), a Navy officer, over Alex’s reckless brushes with the law. Cut to some time later, and Alex is a junior Navy officer — but still as much of a screw-up as before.
Alex is also preparing to marry his girlfriend, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), if he can muster the courage to ask permission from her father (who happens to be overseeing the Pacific fleet), Adm. Shane (Liam Neeson). Shane is unimpressed with Alex and warns him that an upcoming series of international naval exercises may be his last days in the Navy.
The exercises turn real when five massive alien spaceships storm toward Earth. One crashes in Hong Kong, killing thousands, while the other four take up a formation in the Pacific — and form an energy barrier that encircles the alien vessels along with a couple of destroyers (the ones that Stone commands and on which Alex is a weapons officer) and the entire state of Hawaii. The aliens also unleash giant whirling balls of metal destruction, which take out Honolulu’s Marine base and half the freeways, piling up the movie’s senseless computer-animated visual and auditory overload.
Soon, Alex finds himself in command of his crippled destroyer, teaming with a Japanese commander, Capt. Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Asano), to figure out how to defeat the aliens while Shane’s fleet remains helpless outside the barrier. Meanwhile, Sam and her physical-therapy patient, Mick, an Army vet and double amputee (played by Col. Gregory D. Gadson, who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Baghdad in 2007), find they must knock out a satellite-dish array on Oahu that the aliens want to use to send a message home.
Berg ("Hancock," "Friday Night Lights") and screenwriters Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber ("Red") cherry-pick liberally from the Michael Bay repertoire. They take the ugly mechanized creatures of "Transformers," the outer-space cataclysm and the father-daughter conflict of "Armageddon" and the military fetishizing of "Pearl Harbor" — all rolled up into one king-size package of preposterous events, implausible characters (Rihanna as a chief petty officer? Really?) and a torrent of fake demolition that assaults the ears and the eyes.
"Battleship" even fails to live up to the movie’s inspiration, the classic Milton Bradley board game (now owned by Hasbro). Berg and the Hoebers throw in some veiled references to the game — a scene where Nagata and Alex fire on the alien ships using a grid pattern, or the fact that the aliens’ bombs resemble the game’s cylindrical pegs — but they miss some of the game’s basics. Any movie based on "Battleship" that doesn’t at least throw in a PT boat isn’t worthy of the name.