Victory at sea
Against all odds, ‘Battleship’ proves to be a fun time
By Carl Kozlowski 05/17/2012
Some movies simply defy any rational attempt to criticize them. And “Battleship” is one of them.
A big, dumb, undeniably fun excuse to see things blow up for 2 hours and 11 minutes, this latest attempt to turn a toy into a movie comes from Hasbro, which made bazillions by handing over its Transformers toys to Hollywood. But this time, the final result isn’t unwatchable drivel, but a film that actually manages to be entertaining while maintaining a generally coherent plot structure with a couple of human characters you can root for.
How did this happen? Well, instead of hiring the all-flash, no-brains megalomaniac Michael Bay as director, the Hasbro-Universal Studios team actually brought in a half-decent director in Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights,” “The Kingdom,” “Hancock”). Teaming up with brothers and screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber, who previously wrote the terrific action-comedy “Red,” Berg shows that sometimes you can turn lead into gold.
I’m not saying that anyone’s going to win any awards for this one, but the movie both succeeds and fails (mostly succeeding) in surprising ways. The plot is simple enough, as the proverbial bad-boy hotshot Alex Hopper — played by Taylor Kitsch in a turn that will save his career after he bombed out in “John Carter” — is forced by his Navy officer brother to enlist in order to get some discipline in his life.
The movie jumps a couple of years to show Hopper as a lieutenant who still has bad-boy tendencies. But when a force of five alien spaceships plummet into earth’s oceans on the same day Hopper is taking part in a 14-nation set of ceremonial maneuvers and his brother is killed in the ensuing battle, he suddenly has to become a leader and help save the world.
I won’t say much more about the film’s plot, because it’s downright surprising that a movie like this has one. And even though there’s some gaping plot holes and occasionally laughably bad dialogue, the Hoeber boys actually make the damn thing work with a couple of outrageous twists: one made the audience applaud because it finally established a sensible connection to the game it’s based on, and another involves a bunch of World War WII veterans showing up to save the day.
Trust me, grandpas are going to love this movie. And they should take a couple hours to round up the grandkids and revel in a film that — albeit implausibly — shows our veterans getting one up on the new generation.
“Battleship” also has a witty self-awareness about it, as a scientist character actually says “Who talks that way?” after one veteran delivers a couple of blowhard lines about saving the planet. And when the old soldiers show up to save the day, Berg manages to make the moment both heroic and hilarious as these guys with pot bellies, wrinkles and a cane or two are shown arriving for duty with the same slow-mo swagger of Tom Cruise and his ilk.
The movie has drawn attention for the casting of pop singer Rihanna in the role of a gunner, and she manages not to embarrass herself in a performance which mostly consists of running, jumping and blowing aliens to smithereens with her cannon. Surprisingly, Liam Neeson is actually a bigger embarrassment, playing a commander who basically scolds Alex Hopper in a couple of early scenes before showing up literally every 30 minutes to shout things like “Send in the planes!”
Add it all up and “Battleship” won’t be sunk by disappointed viewers. Those of you who think you’ll like it will, and the rest of you can go back to exercising your brain by reading or watching anything else.