Technically, Battleship is big CGI mayhem with some of the best special effects that money can buy. The rest is a rambling, ear-splitting, daft exercise in alien invasion clichés passed off as entertainment.
Director Peter Berg’s movies have been rather well constructed and visually interesting (The Rundown, The Kingdom, Hancock) despite having second-rate plots. Battleship has a few memorable big action sequences, and at a budget of $200 million it just limps along with the smarmy fingerprints of studio interference smudging up the imagery. It's hard to imagine whom the filmmakers had in mind for this huge production – it’s a movie based on a board game, and it has aliens. But it has far too much boring character-talk for kids and is far too dumb for adults.
The premise of Battleship makes sense for about four seconds, after which you begin to wonder what writers John and Erich Hoeber were smoking. Half a dozen alien ships appear in the midst of a naval exercise, and missiles fly. That’s the entirety of the plot, which is juiced by the opening half an hour that plays more like a recruitment video for the US Navy than any character development. Thrown in are a few lead characters (Kitsch, Rihanna, Decker, Neeson) that make cardboard look like titanium.
Now the CGI wizardry is great, though most of it seems like a slightly tweaked version of the Transformers movies – complete with the same orange and green colors and drunken camerawork. The aliens look like the guys from the video game Halo with their helmets and like Bruce Willis without them. The film itself plays like five video game levels - majority of the action takes place right on the ship, and it involves one ship firing big guns on the other, and facing return fire. In the film’s most fun moment, the board game Battleship is incorporated in a crucial action scene, and as crazy as it sounds, it works.
But the rest is so typical of the alien invasion genre that it's hard to summon any real enjoyment. There are plot holes the size of the aliens’ planet, and the mystery surrounding the aliens is never massaged hard enough for anyone to care. Taylor Kitsch looks completely bored and miscast as the baffled hero – which is basically a repetition of his turn in John Carter. Alexander Skarsgard seems like filler for the spots that Kitsch doesn’t appear in, while Brooklyn Decker is a blonde eye candy clone of Megan Fox from Transformers. Then there is Rihanna who has quite a substantial part but is expectedly no Meryl Streep in front of the camera. It all seems like a corny Hollywood exterior under which a fun movie wasn’t allowed to shine through. In fact the only thing certain about Battleship is that Kitsch got a chance to work with Liam Neeson who was in it for the money. Full credit to Neeson, though, because he manages to keep a straight face throughout.
Battleship is CGI-porn, but everything else about it is banal, achingly predictable and dimwitted. Watch it if you want to witness a two hour long tech demo.
(First published in Mid Day)