Starring Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch and Brooklyn Decker. Directed by Peter Berg. 131 minutes, PG-13.
It’s summer, and you know what that means: We’re under attack from outer space again! And this time it’s the U.S. Navy to the rescue in “Battleship,” a big-budget blast-o-rama based on the classic Hasbro board game.
“Based on” is a pretty loose term. Admittedly, it’s been a few years since I sat down to a game of Battleship, on my side of the little blue flip-up pegboard with my little plastic missile plugs and little plastic ships. But I don’t recall the game having anything to do with a humongous alien spacecraft crash-landing in the Pacific and a mad international sea scramble to save the planet.
In the leap from tabletop to theater screen, the story also takes on a gruff Navy admiral (Liam Neeson); his daughter, a beautiful physical therapist (Brooklyn Decker); and the cocky young lieutenant who wants to marry her (Taylor Kitsch).
Director Peter Berg, who developed the book “Friday Night Lights” into a successful movie then a hit TV series, stirs a tidal pool of other actors, including pop star Rihanna; Hamish Linklater from “The New Adventures of Old Christine”; Alexander Skarsgård from TV’s “True Blood”; and Tadanobu Asano, who’s considered Japan’s Johnny Depp back in his home country. Berg himself even pops in front of the camera for a quick cameo as a gunner.
One of the most compelling characters isn’t even an actor, actually. He’s a real-life decorated war hero, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Greg Gradson, who lost both legs at the knees in Iraq in 2007. His debut performance as a wounded vet who helps save the planet leads to one of the movie’s most rousing, mano-a-mano alien smackdowns.
The big cast causes some problems, however; there’s just not enough for everyone to do. Neeson’s admiral misses out on the action entirely, left to snarl on the sidelines.
Another star gets killed off early; that’s one way to cut down on competition for camera time. Decker gets to drive a Jeep into a thicket of aliens, but otherwise she’s mostly around as window dressing and romantic seasoning.
The clutter extends everywhere. So does the clatter, a clangy, anchors-aweigh bombast of special-effects whoosh and wallop, ka-booming explosions and dumb action-movie dialogue. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” says Kitch’s Lt. Hopper. “An end-of-the-world bad feeling.”
The deep-space exterminators, who’ve traveled light years in a flash, arrive in a vessel that can morph into different shapes, disappear beneath the waves or zip through the air. They can throw up a force field to seal themselves in and everything else out. So why are their most sophisticated weapons only a few notches above medieval catapults?
The aliens score early, and big — Hong Kong takes a major hit, thousands die, the ocean becomes a war zone. Will the Earth survive?
I think we all know the answer. The real question is just how long a titanic tub of computer-generated catastrophe like “Battleship” can stay afloat in a long, hot summer with more big movies to come.
— Neil Pond, American Profile.