Battleship of fools
Tim Riggins and Rihanna play Transformers on the water
By Matthew Singer 05/24/2012
Directed by Peter Berg
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction and for language
2 hr. 11 mins.
Like taking a stand for Wall Street bankers, oil companies or guys who hang truck nuts from the bumpers of their SUVs, defending a movie like Battleship is almost impossible. No one will ever feel sorry for a $200 million sci-fi action flick, no matter how unfairly maligned it may be — especially if that action flick is based on a board game. Critics have long prophesied the day that Hollywood would officially run dry of original ideas, and the release of a film whose source material is a 45-year-old naval-themed variant of tic-tac-toe is as sure a sign of the cinematic apocalypse as any. It’s not just cynical journalists and bloggers recoiling at the notion, either: A few months ago, I witnessed a press-screening audience chortle derisively at the trailer. And those people applaud at the end of Rob Schneider movies.
Clearly, Battleship was sunk before it even left the harbor. Although successful overseas, the returns for its opening weekend in America mark the movie as a historic bomb. Is that reflective of its quality? Well, yes. Battleship is generic and forgettable, a glorified Navy recruitment video full of lobotomized patriotism and loud noises in lieu of narrative. But that’s all it is. It is not the unprecedented affront to the art of cinema it was pegged as being before anyone saw a single second. If it had a different title and a more modest budget, it’d barely make a ripple in what’s been a great year for blockbusters. Instead, it’s crashing against the rocks and bursting into $200 million flames. It’s a small-minded failure magnified to epic proportions.
And for its first 45 minutes or so, Battleship actually emits a kind of dimwitted charm. It helps that star Taylor Kitsch spent five years playing a charming dimwit on television. In fact, for fans of Friday Night Lights, the opening scenes will seem like a spinoff. (Not coincidentally, the director is Peter Berg, who shepherded FNL from book to big screen to TV.) As Alex Hooper, a listless skirt-chaser perpetually slumped over a bottle of cheap beer, Kitsch is basically Tim Riggins on a Hawaiian vacation. He’s got the same haircut, the same beat-up pickup truck, the same laissez-faire demeanor. In true Riggins-like behavior, Hooper shoplifts a chicken burrito to impress a girl and gets tased by the cops for his troubles. “You’re joining me in the Navy!” demands his brother (Alexander Skarsgard). When next we see Hooper, he’s sporting a grown-in buzz-cut and competing in a Navy-sponsored soccer match against a Japanese team, narrated by a play-by-play announcer. And wait: Is that Landry Clarke making sarcastic quips on the sidelines? Why didn’t they just call this thing The Dillon Panthers vs. The Aliens?
Once those aliens crash-land off the shore of Oahu, though, and Kitsch’s dialogue turns to barking orders and coordinates, any hope of Battleship emerging as a movie with an actual heart and brain get blowed up real good. Indulging in refried Michael Bayisms, Berg swoops up, down, through and around an endless barrage of CGI explosions, the soundtrack alternating between AC/DC and what sounds like a nu-metal cover of the Emergency Broadcast System alarm. (Appropriately, the goateed, lizard-eyed extraterrestrials resemble a race of Ozzfest attendees.) Rihanna is there, offering monosyllabic punctuation to the myriad ’splosions (“Damn!” “Boom!”), as is frat pinup Brooklyn Decker, whose main objective is to run while wearing a tank top. Such pandering to Us Weekly subscribers is to be expected from an overblown pop creation, but Berg somehow decided that what this cartoonish, effects-laden, blow-’em-up alien invasion picture really needed was a dose of authenticity. In a small but substantial role, he casts a real, double-amputee Iraq war veteran. How does the movie honor this true American hero? By having him punch an alien’s teeth out. And our flag was still therrrrrrrrrre.