REVIEW: Battle: Los Angeles [2011]

Score: 4/10 | ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 116 minutes | Release Date: March 11th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Jonathan Liebesman
Writer(s): Christopher Bertolini

“You got a silver star and my brother came home in a body bag. I get it.”

Stock up on Dramamine, brush up on your Hooked on Phonics, dust off the ol’ Stars and Stripes, and prepare for some Marine Corps action as alien invaders decimate all but one platoon—Oorah!

I can just picture the first meeting for Battle: Los Angeles—I’ll use the colon since it’s everywhere except the opening credits—where the Yes-Men, so enraptured in their Red Bulls and cellphones, start speaking the brilliant idea, amidst ‘dudes’ and ‘mans’, that they need to first figure out a way to take the aliens out in one fell swoop and fill in the rest later. Screenwriter Christopher Bertolini takes hold and runs with it. He knows this thing is populated with Marines, though, so no pansy computer virus, common flu strain, or little girl’s glass of water is going to stop these half organic/half bionic/all but indestructible creatures. Hell, he goes one step further and makes them exist on water—the stuff flows through their veins, inside and out of an H20 sack pumping in the vicinity of our human heart. The next logical steps are to mask the aliens’ arrival as a surprise meteor shower, make them completely devoid of human characteristic so as not to feel sympathy for their plight, and drop a bunch of soldiers into ground zero to bring a few civilians back home before Santa Monica is leveled by the Air Force.

Story proves unnecessary and absolute destruction fills the void. Director Jonathan Liebesman has thrown away his usual horror fare and dove into Roland Emmerich territory, shaking the camera while trying to put a face on the corps we’re to follow. Yes, these guys have names and you will know them from the plethora of captions on the bottom of the screen, a bad writing tick of having most sentences end with the character’s name being spoken to, and a laughable ‘earning respect‘ moment towards the end when a leader proves his loyalty by rambling off names of those who died under his command, complete with call numbers I maintain he made up for full heartstring tug. Sure, one of these grunts is getting married, one is a virgin, one joined from Nigeria to gain citizenship and become a doctor, and another is on his first tour as Lieutenant. But does any of that really matter? Battle: LA is about one thing: firepower—the more bullets, grenades, and cool fireball throwing extraterrestrial weaponry, the better. It’s Hollywood; humanity is eventually going to stumble upon an answer for victory from shear dumb luck anyway.

And it is all just so boring. They try hard to create a feeling of Black Hawk Down, but it’s impossible when you’re telling a story with aliens. This is fictional; every character is a manifestation of poorly written words. It’s amazing to compare the two—on the surface both giant two-hour battles for survival—and see how what works for one can’t in the other. An attempt is made to understand these men, watching them go through training for all of three minutes and gain excitement about their first deployment, but everyone is way too expendable. Each Marine exists to be used as a pawn to the story, fodder for alien annihilation, dying before we can remember their name—despite the captions—let alone feel sorry for the loss. It’s definitely a problem when the most sympathetic actor is Ne-Yo. Yes, the R&B singer of “Miss Independent” is surprisingly the one guy charming enough, funny enough, and real enough for me to buy. Adetokumboh M’Cormack’s Adukwu is a close second and Michael Peña usually excels at this, but is wasted. Aaron Eckhart should be the guy; he is the star after all. Sadly, his role is too one-note, like the film itself.

We’re actually introduced to Eckhart’s Nantz as he’s got two feet out the door. The papers are signed, his commanding officer has said goodbye, and the Staff Sergeant’s shelf life has reached expiration. Until the meteors are discovered to be more than just space rocks plummeting to the ground that is. The situation becomes all hands on deck as Nantz is swept into the action to help rookie Lieutenant Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) lead his men to war against an unknown enemy. Eckhart’s strong jaw line is perfect for this man without quit, who has seen too much tragedy for a lifetime, and his professionalism allows him to show a softer side as he helps his Lieutenant rather than take control. All the men have heard stories about his last mission and how he was the only one to survive. The screenwriters decide contrived conflict is the way to go and even make a brother of one of those deceased a member of his new platoon. It’s not like it matters, though, since no conflict occurs besides the lame speechification to win everyone over in lieu of the Presidential oration common in these films.

The worst moment in Eckhart’s performance, however, is his attempt to console a young boy he rescued. Mister Marine doesn’t know how to show love or compassion, keeping an arms length as he rubs the boy’s shoulders, looking over at Bridget Moynahan—who has done little since birthing Tom Brady’s child, yet still seems to command a higher paycheck than this throwaway role deserves—to tell him he’s doing okay. Well he isn’t, it’s the worst consoling this side of Sheldon Cooper’s in “The Big Bang Theory”. So, he does what he knows. He makes the kid an honorary Marine, tells him he’s brave, and pretty much praises the boy to feel a sense of worth and not the loss of his father. It’s so heavy-handed that I thought the twelve year old would pick up a gun and join the fight. It would have been the best thing to happen to Battle: LA, too. Goofy, yes, but refreshing and unexpected—two things the film will never be called. Instead, everything plays out as assumed with way too much padding. And while the Marines are shown as the heroes they most certainly are, it’s so over-the-top that the caricature may in fact end up horribly demeaning to these proud protectors of freedom.

[1] Aaron Eckhart stars in Columbia Pictures’ “Battle: Los Angeles.” ©2010 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Michelle Rodriguez in Columbia Pictures’ “Battle: Los Angeles.” ©2010 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Aaron Eckhart stars as Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz and Michael Pena stars as Joe Rincon in Columbia Pictures’ Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

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