Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Battle: Los Angeles" Review

It's tough to hear yourself think over the racket of "Battle: Los Angeles"—not that you'll need to do any thinking. The film is an affront to the senses: loud, ugly, and coarse. It's the kind of brainless would-be summer blockbuster that might be fun if it were willing to ease up on the melodrama, but gloom and doom with an extra helping of hopelessness is the only item on the menu. Cooked up in the same tepid crockpot as a decade's worth of mediocre extraterrestrial epics, "Battle: LA" is unfit for human consumption. Call the health inspector.

Welterweight director Jonathan Liebesman ("Darkness Falls," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning") tries way too hard to champion this as science fiction's answer to modern war classics like "Black Hawk Down" and "Saving Private Ryan." He lets the all the faux-grandeur go to his head, and simply doesn't have the money or the talent to make a movie on the scale he envisions. Despite impressive imagery like military helicopters flying in formation against a silhouette skyline or meteorites impacting the coast, "Battle: LA" feels budget.

Maybe because the camera is mostly tethered to a squad of marines who creep through narrow alleyways and take shelter in dim supermarkets. Liebesman conspicuously avoids visual effects wherever possible, though it's just as well; his armor-plated invaders are hopelessly bland bugs. Then there's the nauseating overuse of close-ups to hammer home the cheap and dirty aesthetic. By my recollection, over half the movie is recorded sans tripod, and "Battle: LA" is a sea of buoying heads. That its color palette barely ventures beyond brown doesn't help.

The shoddy craftsmanship might have been forgivable were there at least a compelling cast of characters—but these marines, led by an earnest Aaron Eckhart, are as unimaginative as their otherworldly opponents. Watching them fight skirmish after identical skirmish wherein no one dies and nothing is at stake, the ceaseless ratatat of gunfire and tinkle of spent shells became like so much white noise I was actually lulled into a short-lived nap.

I couldn't have missed much. After all, "Battle: Los Angeles" teeters on one of the most under-thought premises in the history of under-thought invasion movies. Of course, the prosecution will always win in the case of The People Vs. Outer Space, which necessitates some critical flaw in the stratagem of our alien aggressors. Even so, the tactics of this space-faring species makes you wonder how they even got airborne. In a bid to liquidate Earth of its precious H20, these idiots show up to fight us on land. I'm no George S. Patton, but wouldn't it make more sense to drop anchor in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and set up a defense perimeter while you suck our planet dry? Well out of range of our tanks and troops and fuel-guzzling helicopters? I'm just some guy and I thought of that.

But the truth is I don't even really care that "Battle: LA" makes no sense, or that its characters are cliché and its aliens dull. Almost instantly disengaging, the film scarcely evokes any emotion at all. I frankly couldn't care less about the carnage on screen after 10 repetitive minutes of it. 'Non-stop action!' often reads as a compliment, but it's the fatal flaw of this colossal misfire. On top of everything, Liebesman even has the nerve to hint at a sequel using some half-baked breakfast analogy. If this is indicative of the swill he'll be serving, I think I'll skip lunch. Check please.


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