Saturday, March 12, 2011

My take on "Battle: Los Angeles"

Everything blows up nice but...
 It’s a drop-dead, gorgeous day in Atlanta.  The sun is shining, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and it looks as if spring has finally arrived in the south.  It is, without a doubt, the kind of day that should be spent enjoying some sort of outdoor activity...unless you’re a sci-fi fanboy who opted for a matinee of “Battle: Los Angeles” in a dark theatre.  I am just such a fanboy!  So without further delay, here’s my take on “B:LA”.
Dang...I'm a poet and didn't know it!


I like to start on a positive note, and this film definitely has more than a few things going for it.  First, and foremost, I have to prop up Jonathan Liebsman for making an alien invasion film that really LOOKS like an alien invasion film!  There is nothing pretty about how these E.T.’s go about their business.  From the second they land, they begin blasting hapless humans with abandon.  The Los Angeles shoreline is littered with corpses, scorched bodies line the streets, and buildings are reduced to smoldering rubble.  This is a WAR film and combat between the humans and aliens is fierce, gritty and reminiscent of “Blackhawk Down”.  Without a doubt, Liebsman was inspired by the look and feel of the aforementioned film, and for his take on an alien invasion this atmosphere is gripping and engaging.

We're here to kick ass and dish out pain!
The special effects are state of the art, which one expects of movies that rely heavily on CG these days.  Let’s face it, if a film in this genre has cheeseball effects, it isn’t worth watching.  But in “B:LA”, the aliens interact with their human adversaries flawlessly, all of the otherworldly weaponry is well rendered, and everything “blowed up real good”!  I especially appreciated the design work that went into the alien vehicles.  They were interesting to look at and lacked the “clean” ship designs typically foisted on moviegoers in the “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” films.  They are bulgy, ugly, fire-spitting death machines that look as if the aliens value function over form.

I must admit I derived what can only be called a perverse pleasure in watching Los Angeles burn from the alien attack.  I’m not fond of that city in the slightest!  Back in the late 80’s, I spent two days in that giant lunatic asylum, and wanted to leave two hours after I arrived.  Everybody is an “AC-TOR” and when you order a #1 McDonald’s combo, you receive a copy of the cashier’s latest “awesome script”.  YOU know it, I know it and most of all, Liebsman knows it!  Watching LA go up in flames DOES provide a visceral pleasure for the viewer that would not be the same had the baddies chosen a location like Phoenix, Oklahoma City or Miami to unleash their brand of hell. 

The BAD:

Let me preface this section by alerting you to THREE things GUARANTEED to warn you about just how bad a movie is.

1) Any film released between January and April or late August through mid November is one the studio knows will not stack up against the Summer and holiday blockbusters.  These are the “garbage dump” months studios use to make a quick buck off a public stuck indoors because of crappy weather.
2) Any studio that releases film with an embargo on advanced screening reviews knows they have a stinker on their hands.  Think “damage control” folks!
3) Films that plug and endless list of “Academy Award Winning” or “Nominated” actors are relying on celebrity clout because they know their story sucks.

“Battle: Los Angeles” falls into two of three categories, and that aint good.  Owing to the fact that nobody in the cast has ever won an Oscar, you know what we’re left with.

Square jawed jarhead?  CHECK!
The storyline, if you can verify that it actually has one, is paper thin and chock full of bullet holes.  If you’re looking for plot, interesting character development, backstory on the baddies or anything of substance at all, just fuhgettaboudit!  None of this exists in “B:LA”.  When writer Christopher Bertolini prepared his treatment for pitching this idea to studio execs, it merely said, “Bad aliens come to LA and good humans fight back.”  Once it got green lit, he didn’t even bother to expound on that concept.  Instead he borrowed every military and alien invasion cliche you’ve ever seen in movies past!  The retiring Staff Sergeant with days left called back into action...CHECK.  The self sacrificing member of the squad saves the rest by blowing himself up...CHECK.  Commanding officer has to win his doubting men’s loyalty...CHECK.   Aliens come to Earth to steal our stuff...CHECK.  I could go on, but suffice it to say that “B:LA’s” endless cliches will doubtless become the subject of a new college drinking game once it hits DVD.  Kid salutes marine as he gazes upward with big, brown puppy eyes...DRINK DRINK DRINK!!!

The advanced review embargo is justified.  If critics got hold of “B:LA” and reviewed it before its release, it would have killed the opening weekend box office quicker than a hooker with herpes nullifies a drunken sailor’s libido.  “But how can this be,” you ask?  Here, in no particular order are the reasons: Poor dialogue, giant plot holes, “shakey camera” filming technique, cliche characters and predictable character deaths riddle this film.  Even Aaron Eckhart, who portrayed a brilliant Harvey “Two-Face” Dent in “Batman: The Dark Knight”, couldn’t save this movie from its shortcomings.

I lack range in my acting!
Perhaps most annoying was Michelle Rodriguez, because once again...she was...Michelle Rodriguez.  This film has cured me of seeing anything she’s ever in again.  C’mon, how many more times am I going to see her take on “tough hispanic chick-warrior?”  I can assure you “Battle: Los Angeles” is the LAST TIME!!!

In closing, “B:LA” is not a bad movie, but it’s not a good movie either.  It’s the kind of flick you can kill a couple of hours with and not regret doing so, but you’ll also realize that those two hours could have been better spent doing something like mowing your lawn.  If you’re a diehard sci-fi fanatic, this film’s combination of action and outstanding eye candy will provide enough of a fix until the summer blockbusters hit.  If you’re looking for sci-fi with substance, save your cash. 


Action, atmosphere, design, explosions: A-
Plot, character development, Michelle Rodriguez as Michelle Rodriguez: D
Overall: C