Odeon East Kilbride, 14.03.11
Still raining most of the time, perfect weather for cinema. An afternoon trip to the local Odeon to see Battle: Los Angeles. Almost got the screen to myself again, but was joined by 2 other men on their own with nothing better to do on a wet Monday afternoon.
Set in the present day, the plot, such as there is one, centres on a unit of Marines sent to save civilians stranded in an abandoned Los Angeles, under attack from an alien force bent on colonising the planet for its natural water resources. Cities around the globe are attacked, but this is only mentioned in news reports caught by the central characters, as we focus on their plight.
Let’s start with the good things about Battle: Los Angeles. The first is that it does exactly what it’s title tells you it will do. It is a battle, and it is set in Los Angeles. Fair enough. As with any Hollywood sci-fi action-er, there are some impressive special effects incorporating the destroyed city, the mechanical hardware of the invaders, plenty of explosions and seamless CG. It delivers plenty of action, in fact, it delivers pretty much non-stop action for its entire running time. But here is where the problems start.
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, who gave us the awful Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (and expectations for this film should be lowered accordingly), the relentless action soon becomes tiresome, with set pieces a confused mess of fast cutting, hand-held camera and indistinguishable characters. Which would be bearable except that there is no escape. It just doesn’t slow down. And because it doesn’t slow down a second problem arises. Apart from Aaron Eckhart, the Marines are principally played by a cast of relative unknowns, lumbered with stale, clichéd dialogue. Only 5 minutes at the start of the film are given over to actually establishing any individuals, so we are rapidly presented with snippets of genre staples – the father to be; the husband to be; the virgin; the damaged soldier and the veteran with past demons on the verge of retiring. The last is played by Aaron Eckhart, and his journey to inevitable redemption provides the centre of the film, and as such is stuck with the worst of the poor dialogue. When the casualties start mounting you soon lose track of who is alive and who is dead, as they are all interchangeable and indistinguishable, and as a result it is difficult to care for anyone. Michael Cena pops up in a bizarre small role as one of the rescued civilians, presumably cast to try to provide some emotional depth as his role provides the one scene that involves dialogue more complex than shouted military jargon in between gunfire. But as with Eckhart, he is wasted and stuck with woeful, clunky dialogue.
Amongst the usual action cliché dialogue there are a couple of notable pieces of writing that actually offend. One is the marine casually commenting that he ‘would rather be in Afghanistan’ – goodness knows what any Marines who have actually served there would make of that. The other is the marine who asks, in response to Eckhart’s heroic actions as being John Wayne-like, ‘Who is John Wayne anyway.’ Has it really come to that amongst the cinema viewing youth today, that John Wayne has to be given a qualifying remark? I suspect that Hollywood has again underestimated the intellect of the public.
Which is true for the whole of Battle: Los Angeles. It can’t stay still in case the audience lose interest for a nanosecond, but also because if it does pause, then the glaring holes in characterisation, plot and logic may be noticed. This being Hollywood of course, the Marines we have followed soon discover the key to bringing down the entire invasion, so having safely rescued the children, they do as Hollywood Marines do, and go back to take on the enemy on there own (rather than informing command of the vital information they have discovered).
So if you like brainless, unrelenting action and simple Hollywood morals in a simple world where baddies are bad and humans are good, then this will be for you. If you want strong plot, characters with depth, complex morality and a film that doesn’t suffer from A.D.D. – look elsewhere.
Film Rating: 1 out of 5.