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.
(Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
“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 blue flip-up pegboard with my little plastic missile plugs and ships. But, I don’t recall the game having anything to do with a humongous alien spacecraft crash-landing in the Pacific Ocean and an international sea scramble to save the planet.
In the leap from tabletop to 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 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 “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 in 2007 lost both legs at the knees in Iraq. His debut performance as a wounded vet who helps save the planet leads to one of the movie’s most rousing, alien smack downs.
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, booming explosions and dumb action-movie dialogue. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” says Kitsch’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.