Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo, Michael Peña, Adetokumboh M'Cormack, Neil Brown Jr., Noel Fisher

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language)

Running Time: 1:56

Release Date: 3/11/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 10, 2011

Aliens invade. Things explode. Marines shout orders. The score alternates between orchestral and choral swells signifying courageous honor and the pounding, marching percussion of Marines moving toward more aliens blowing up things.

The plot of Battle Los Angeles is only a few dialogue scenes removed from the objective-based narratives of countless video games concerning warfare in modern times. Go here, shooting bad guys along the way; now go there, shooting even more baddies en route.

The villains are aliens from another world, come to Earth, a talking head on television supposes, for the planet's water supply. Ocean levels are decreasing, and apparently all alien technology is powered by the liquid (This state of matter is an important point, says the talking head, because obviously the aliens are too lazy to heat up water in its solid form or cool it in its gaseous one). They even squirt the wet stuff when they're shot or during the one scene that tries to make them more imposing than just a bunch of digital targets.

Televisions play a key factor in the movie, giving us our first view of the crafts that bring the creatures to Earth off the coasts of major metropolises throughout the world and the subsequent start of their invasion. The images on the screens within the screen are perhaps the only stationary shots in otherwise herky-jerky camera work, and even those are seen in grainy static. For a long while, the movie is not much more than a noisy assortment of computer-generated projectiles, explosions, fire, and smoke.

Into this chaos enters Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a veteran of Iraq who has decided this next batch of recruits for training at Camp Pendleton will be his last. He's still haunted by his last tour of duty, in which he earned a commendation while the men under his command were all killed.

There are others, too, of course, all introduced with a title underneath them giving rank and name. Otherwise, characterization is barely present.

A young Lieutenant Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is Nantz' new commanding officer, fresh out of school (certain to waver in his decisions in combat, letting us see what a natural leader Nantz is) and with a pregnant wife at home. Corporal Lockett's (Cory Hardict) brother was killed while under Nantz' command and bears a grudge, left simmering until it's needed for a dramatic moment of camaraderie. Beyond those two, everyone else fits a generic type: the corpsman (Adetokumboh M'Cormack), the joker (Neil Brown Jr.), the virgin (Noel Fisher), the guy with glasses (Ne-Yo), the woman who appears later with as much guts as the guys (Michelle Rodriguez), and the rest.

The unit flies in to Santa Monica on a search and rescue mission, finds a veterinarian (Bridget Moynahan), a father (Michael Peña), and three children, and tries to escape the increasing onslaught of extraterrestrials to bring them back to base. Many are wounded or die with as little recognition as to who is killed in the chaos as there is to establishing them as people in first place, and screenwriter Chris Bertolini even cynically brings in a new squad of military personnel, just so there's additional fodder for the aliens' incendiary and explosive rounds.

We suspect the movie will follow a predictable path, and for the very large part, it does. Then there's a scene, after they've captured an alien, when Nantz and the veterinarian perform a living autopsy on it to try to discover the monsters' weak spot, and things take a slightly logical turn (though don't expect them to follow the discovery of said autopsy, as the stated location of the aliens' vital spot changes in each telling, and headshots and grenades seem to work just fine anyway).

The eventual showdowns with the creatures at least, in spite of the shaky camera, have a sense of strategy to them. There's a shootout on the destroyed freeway; as aliens ambush them from above, they try to lower the kids below. The action makes enough sense to follow, and as the team's goals become clearer, director Jonathan Liebesman becomes a better manager of the mess of blasts and bullets.

Bertolini desperately grabs for any shred of humanity he can muster amidst the sound and the fury and comes up with cliché (a letter passed on, a rallying cry to stick together, and "I need you to be my little Marine"). On a certain level, it's about all one could expect from Battle Los Angeles, and on another, that isn't exactly something which to aspire.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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