Monday, March 14, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Review by Pete Roche

Director Jonathan Liebesman was born the year CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND was released.  So he’s still relatively young (34), and may one day deliver something that isn’t a horror retread (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING) or grandiose, unnecessary follow-up to someone else’s re-make (WRATH OF THE TITANS).  In the meantime, his BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is both retread and remake—a Cliff’s Notes of post-Cold War alien invasion movies that scavenges stronger creature-features like INDEPENDENCE DAY and STARSHIP TROOPERS without furthering the genre. 

Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is past his shelf-life with the military but suits up again with some less-experienced Marines to investigate an incoming meteor shower.  The grunts—who think they’re coordinating an evacuation—learn the “meteors” have solid metal cores and decelerated before slamming into the ocean.  The horrific truth becomes clear: like a dozen other major port cities around the globe, L.A. is under siege by a hostile alien army.  Yes, friends, there is other life on other planets—and it will kill us for our water. 

“It’s a textbook invasion,” says army spokesman on TV. Sadly, BATTLE: L.A. is a textbook invasion movie whose first act is essentially a mishmash of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and PREDATOR.  The marines don’t know what they’re up against and aren’t used holding the line at home, right outside the neighborhood Domino’s Pizza.  They’ve only got six hours to rescue civilians hunkered  at a local police station (ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13) before jet fighters carpet bomb the entire place (PLATOON, AVP: REQUIEM).    

Meanwhile, Sgt. Nantz has survivor’s guilt.  His last mission ended tragically and now, on the eve of retirement, redemption means facing an extraterrestrial enemy—marauding Bionicles with limitless firepower and no exploitable weakness.  The urban incursions—shot with handheld cams and resembling C-SPAN combat footage from Fallujah—are intense (a la HURT LOCKER, RESTREPO).  The troops hurl grenades, fire bazookas, and launch F-bombs while dodging the armored aliens.

In a middle act reminiscent of SPEED, the overwhelmed heroes hotwire a getaway bus—only to discover their exit ramp no longer exists.  Surrounded by Nasties on a crumbling freeway overpass, they make the sacrifices we’ve come to expect in movies like this.  A female USAF tech operative (Michelle Rodriguez) joins the Boys Club at halftime, but her presence feels obligatory—as if filling some quota. 

The climax finds our scrappy team of Semper-Fis plotting to neutralize the entire alien air force by bombing its command tower.  Kill the data feed, and they’ll disable the drones.  We’ve seen stuff like this before, too—in STAR WARS: PHANTOM MENACE and INDEPENDENCE DAY

BATTLE: LA mistakes shrapnel for substance.  The script confuses sloganeering with soul.  It’s a visceral, if dumb, combat adventure with a shoestring plot; a cantankerous Xbox war game that happens to star Aaron Eckhart.  It’s a peripheral attraction at an amusement park that people ride only because it is located on their walk to the bigger roller coasters.  2 out of 4 stars.

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