© 2011 Ray Wong
Being a Los Angeleno, I was excited and eager to see a apocalyptic war movie set in Los Angeles (enough of New York already!) But aliens? We already had Skyline, which wasn't that good, this past summer. Battle: Los Angeles takes a different approach, however.
Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) just returned from a tour in Iraq, where his team had suffered a fatal attack. Not able to get over his guilt, he asks for and is granted a discharge. But the very next day, he's recalled for active duty. It seems like the entire military is being mobilized as a cluster of mysterious meteorites enter the Earth's atmosphere. It turns out these are no meteorites; they are actually alien spaceships staging a full-on invasion, targeting every major coastal cities in the world.
In LA, the military, stationed in Santa Monica FOB, is staging a counterattack. Nantz's team, led by 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), has the mission to search and rescue several civilians before the bomb drop in Santa Monica. The rescue mission turns deadly when they encounter hostile enemies. They also come in close contact with some of these alien creatures. Nantz, with the help of veterinarian Michele (Bridget Moynahan), tries to figure out how to kill the seemingly indestructible aliens.
Soon their team is joined by a rouge group of soldiers including communication officer Elena Guerrero (Michelle Rodriguez). Nantz realizes the alien drones are controlled by a central communication ship, and if they can take it out, the world's military may have a chance. So the rescue turns into a suicide mission of search and destroy, before the aliens take over Los Angeles and, perhaps, the world.
Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole) is a decent actor if given the right material. Unfortunately, in action hero mode, he doesn't have anything to do but act macho. In fact, much of the ensemble cast suffers the same fate, and it's a large cast. Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar) is playing more or less the same part she's been playing. No surprise there. At least Ramon Rodriguez (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) has a more rounded character who is thrust into the leadership role before he's fully ready; he shows real fear and uncertainty while trying to become the leader he is.
Bridget Moynahan (I, Robot) has nothing to do. Her only real line is "I'm a veterinarian." There's a missed opportunity there to develop her character's relationship with Eckhart's. Cory Hardrict (He's Just Not That Into You) has a good scene with Eckhart but that's about it. Singer Ne-Yo (Stomp the Yard) is amiable as the bookish Cpl. Harris. James Hiroyuki Liao (Management) fills the ethnic quota as the only Asian in the cast. Noel Fisher (Red) is typed as the doomed private. Gino Anthony Pesi (Vampire Diaries) plays one of the most lovable characters and his onscreen chemistry with Ne-Yo is excellent.
Written by Christopher Bertolini (The General's Daugther), the story takes an interesting approach by keeping the focus tight around one military team. Much of the drama and action are told from the team's point of view. The problem is, Bertolini's screenplay is filled with cliches and stereotypes. Everything you have seen from war movies, it's there, from the characters to the situations and dialogue. I give Bertolini's kudos for trying to tell a story from that angle: It's part Hurt Locker, part War of the Worlds, and part Independence Day. But he falls way short of presenting us with a truly human story. What transpires is a tired, cliched recruitment film for the Marines.
There is hardly any character development. What little is done with these characters are one-dimensional cutouts. We're supposed to know and get these characters based on a few lines of dialogue, and that's precisely the problem. Bertolini is so keen on describing the horror and intensity of war that he forgets that we don't really care unless we care about the characters. The situations are contrived and the plot is trite. Most of the time, we don't know what is happening to who, and it's even harder for us to care. When he tries to be heart-felt, it comes across as cheesy and sappy -- it may have worked for Independence Day, but not here.
Jonathan Liebesman's (The Killing Room) direction is intense and fast-paced. The scenes are often full of tension, but once again, unless we care about the characters, it doesn't mean anything. The production is good and the special effects are excellent, giving us a realistic look at LA in mayhem. Often I feel like I'm seeing real war footage. Who doesn't want to see their hometown destroyed?
The character design of the aliens, however, is pitiful. With all the money they've spent on the production, at least come up with something more original and frightening. The action, while intense, is relentless. After about 40 minutes of nonstop action, it becomes tedious. It's exactly like playing a video game, and playing it for too long. I feel numb. Action scenes after action scenes, and I fail to care and just wish for the movie to be over. The shaky-cam may have worked for the action sequences, but its pervasive use during the quiet scenes is nauseating and makes me wonder if Liebesman understands the concept of "enough is enough."
The ending is predictable. Whether it's a tribute to Independence Day or not, it's laughable and corny. If it's supposed to be a recruitment film, I think the military could be proud of it -- certainly it will turn a few heads of the uneducated, macho men-boys with too much testosterone to spare. If nothing else, the video game will be a big hit for the 14-25 year-old males.
Needless to say, Battle: Los Angeles is a huge disappointment for me. I was hoping for something grand, epic and incredibly human. After all, this is about mankind being attacked and destroyed by alien invaders. Instead, what we get is a prolonged video game with stock characters and minimal drama. It really doesn't matter what they're fighting: it could be aliens, Iraqis, or Godzilla. I just don't care. I feel cheated. It's one battle lost.
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Cory Hardrict, Gino Anthony Pesi, Ne-Yo
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writer: Christopher Bertolini
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, language
Running Time: 116 minutes
Script – 4
Performance – 6
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 9
Total – 5.9 out of 10