Battleship review (Movie)

Movies based on board games don’t happen that often.  That’s mainly because the board game serves a purpose that’s resolved in a matter of minutes, up to about a half hour or so, and involves fun based on a principle.  A movie, on the other hand, has to last at least 80 minutes or so and relies on much more than one simple concept to get things done.  That’s the way it was when Clue was stretched out into a somewhat palatable (but utterly forgettable) comedy back in the 80’s, and the rule applies even further now for Battleship — a waste of Hollywood potential.

Never mind the fact that the film has a story tied in with the human spirit and, for that matter, aliens — two things that were never involved with the board game.  The story revolves around Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a loser who drives his military brother (Alexander Skarsgard) crazy by hardly accomplishing anything.  After landing in jail over an incident revolving around the hot girl Sam (Brooklyn Decker) and a stolen chicken burrito, he’s forced to join the Navy and shape up.  Years later, he somehow becomes a top officer — and is very deeply involved with Sam — but still can’t avoid screwing up and facing the ire of the local Admiral (Liam Neeson).  It also doesn’t help that the old fart is Sam’s father, and he can’t ask for her hand in marriage.

But they have bigger problems when a local Hawaiian facility tries to contact a planet across the galaxy and gets the answer in the form of high-tech aliens who crash-land in the water, seal off a defensive perimeter, and create all sorts of havoc.  Ships are blown out of the sea and heavily armed soldiers begin making a mess of things.  They do have a purpose here, which forces Alex to essentially pull himself together and work with a rival captain to find a way to fight back.

So, yeah, that’s all from the board game too, right?  But minor squabbles aside, the movie as a whole feels like a wasted opportunity.  Director Peter Berg has proven in the past that he knows how to shoot a good action movie, as proven by the entertaining The Rundown and the sports saga Friday Night Lights.  Unfortunately, he puts his skills in the back seat merely to do his best Michael Bay impression, and it just doesn’t work.  There are some impressive set pieces, including one on a rapidly sinking ship that stays focused with the crew on-board, but not nearly enough to make up for the film’s missing structure.  Or, for that matter, the fun.

Nope, Battleship isn’t really that much fun.  The characters simply don’t mesh that well, and the only hope of comic relief is a nerdy tech named Cal (Hamish Linklater) and an inept government official, played by Peter MacNicol of all people.  Both fail to skirmish even a good laugh — even Cal’s mistimed joke of E.T. phoning home falls flat on its face.

Granted, the movie as a whole lacks good acting.  Neeson tries to bring seriousness to the product, but he’s on-screen for a total about 15 minutes — something the trailers fail to mention.  Kitsch does well, but he honestly did better in John Carter a few months back.  Skarsgard is the forgettable, angry older brother — one who never gets the chance to see eye to eye with his young sibling.  Decker is merely the “stand around and look pretty” type and never really rises above the level of, dare we say it, Megan Fox.  And for some reason, Rihanna is in the middle of all this, trying to act tough but just coming across as really awkward.  Especially when she tries to say, “Mahalo, mother…” at one point.  Yes, it’s cut off on purpose.  The movie doesn’t even know when to have fun in that regard.  Only U.S. Army Colonel Gregory D. Gatson gets it right, as a former military man with prosthetic legs who’s actually quite good, especially during a fisticuffs battle with one of the aliens.

Battleship does have one thing that manages to save it, and that’s the visual effects.  Some of these are real fun to watch, like the huge alien craft when they emerge from the water and huge metallic spheres that rip through everything they touch — from helicopters to ships to pieces of freeway (which is never really explained, go figure).  They keep the movie from drowning completely.

Still, is that enough to put up with Battleship, especially considering that two weeks ago, Marvel’s The Avengers got everything right, from story to special effects to characters?  The answer is no.  Battleship might be considerably fun as a last-ditch popcorn movie choice, but the movie’s inability to kick back and just have fun with the content (no one ever says, “You sank my battleship," even though the opportunity was clearly there) is noticeable throughout its entire 131 minutes.  Unless the right writing team is up for the job, there’s no future for board game-based movies.  And that goes double for Adam Sandler and his Candy Land adaptation.

Below Average

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Robert Workman
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