I recently watched A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. It was a pretty fun ride: not as good as the classic Harold &Kumar go to White Castle, but a hell of a lot better than Harold & Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay. I especially like the Claymation portion of the proceedings. There’s nothing like a Claymation puppet whipping out a 24” dong in the middle of a movie to get you to squirt coke out of your nose.
Why am I talking about Harold & Kumar? Because back in 2004 when our stoner friends were just meeting Neil Patrick Harris for the very first time, they went to Princeton and got trapped in the girl’s bathroom. While they were hiding in the middle stall, two excessively flatulent Ivy League girls occupy the stalls on either side of them and begin to play the most appalling game I’ve ever heard of: Battleshit.
This is what I think of when I remember the classic Hasbro board game now. Hollywood has ruined me.
And that’s not all Hollywood seems to be ruining. We can also thank it for the completely unnecessary movie translation of the game, Battleship. We could also blame Michael Bay, since this film is quite obviously heavily influenced by his recent Transformers trilogy. I found it hard to believe that his name isn’t in the credits anywhere since the whole thing looks as if it was pulled right out of How to Make a Movie the Michael Bay Way. It’s sort of like a Pearl Harbor vs. the Decepticons. I am not even kidding.
After doing a double take, I found that the film is directed by Peter Berg, the guy who has consistently made films that I can never quite like, but don’t absolutely hate. Movies like 2008’s Hancock, which felt like a movie that didn’t know what it wanted to be. There are parts that are undeniably watchable, but as a whole it just doesn’t work. Battleship feels a lot like that as well.
There is very little to like here aside from a loud rock soundtrack and the explosions. It’s really too bad, since it looks like Berg was given the same kind of access to the US Navy that Bay always gets from the Army and Air Force. I can’t remember many great Navy films. Crimson Tide and Hunt for the Red October come to mind, but that’s about it. Being a former Navy brat myself and having visited many of these boats myself (I lived in Hawaii for most of my childhood), I was dying to see something along those lines: something that made you want to scream when that last torpedo blew up the enemy sub. What we get is a whole lot of empty jingoism and propaganda.
The film starts with an intro similar to the one that is tacked on the front of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which seems edited in such a way as to cause seizures in epileptics. It talks about how NASA set up this project to send a signal into space towards an Earth like planet. It’s feels like minutes of exposition squeezed into 30 seconds. The whole front portion of the film feels like this: uncomfortably short jump cuts making you feel like things are moving faster than they actually are. Unfortunately, it’s 40 minutes of lead-in time before we get to the part with aliens in it. We still need to wade through the introduction of Taylor Kitch, complete with the same asthmatic monotone drawl he used in John Carter, his brother (Alexander Skarsgård), the love interest (Brooklyn Decker), her father (Liam Neeson), a Japanese rival (Tadanobu Asano), some useless background characters (Rihanna, et al.) and a ton of other people that do nothing really but complicate the plot and drag us away from what we want to see.
I mean, why is Decker running around the mountains of Oahu with a double amputee? It’s great that Gregory D. Gadson (a real life war-vet who lost his legs) got the job, but the whole subplot is useless and could have been deleted completely from the film. It seems like this needed a few more runs around the writer’s room to iron out the wrinkles and really deliver a coherent story and a more streamlined plot.
Let’s see if I can sum this up. Alex Hopper is a loser who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. After getting in trouble with the law while trying to impress a girl, his brother, Stone Hopper pressures him into joining the Navy with him. He makes it through and eventually lands under the command of not only his brother, but also the father of the aforementioned girl. Together, they all go out on a training mission with some Japanese Navy people (only one of which is ever utilized as a character). While on the mission, unidentified objects crash into the ocean next to the Hawaiian Islands. The Hoppers are sent in to check it out. The alien ship throws up a huge force field, trapping the Hoppers inside, while Neeson’s group gets to wade around for the rest of the movie.
Meanwhile, Alex’s girlfriend, who works as a physical therapist at Pearl Harbor, begins working with an angry survivor from Afghanistan who lost both his legs. She decides to take him on a hike in the mountains, where they promptly get trapped as the aliens set up a perimeter around that NASA signaling station and try and phone home. It’s now up to them to stop the aliens from getting a message home and bringing in reinforcements. But it’s ok, because they found a science geek on the way who explains all the necessary technology in Hollywood-ese.
This whole set up makes for a pretty poor alien invasion film. You never really get a sense of menace from the bad guys (mostly because they can be taken down by double amputee, an actress, and a nerd) and the level of loss just seems low. Sure they take out the Marine Base in Kaneohe, but it’s a pretty fast scene (made quicker by the frenetic editing) that doesn’t present much gravitas. Neither does the destruction of the any of the Navy ships. We get to see 2 of them blown to smithereens, but then it’s over. The film doesn’t even try to make those moments count to bring in the viewer. It jumps right back to Rhianna doing her tough girl thing on the little raft with a machine gun.
They’re so much they could have done here. Drop Rhianna and put some actress without a goofy haircut who can look competent as a weapons officer. Drop Kitsch: he’s trying to play Maverick, but he comes off an unlikable ass with breathing problems. Revamp the script:
Kitsch – “What’s your name?”
Decker – “ I’m hungry.”
Kitsch – “That’s not your name…”
That is NOT a funny joke. Tighten up the plot, making sure that the characters who matter are the ones the audience is focused on and that their actions are the ones driving the plot. We want to be on the boat, fighting the aliens. This movie is called Battleship. Fucking USE Liam Neeson. He was outside the wall the ENTIRE FUCKING MOVIE. Try and come up with more original designs for your alien tech and soldiers. I’ve seen this stuff before in Halo.
Oh, and get some more shots of the Nimitz Highway getting totaled. That was awesome.