“Battleship” technically competent yet unexciting

I firmly believe that a great piece of art can come from any source, any inspiration. But where exactly that inspiration comes from, and the reason for its selection, is up for quite a bit more skepticism in my eyes. Enter “Battleship”, a $209 million film whose primary inspiration is a plastic game in which little pegs and ships are the sources of excitement and tension. It certainly goes without saying that “Battleship” was created out of executive laziness and creative bankruptcy, alongside numerous other greenlit Hasbro projects (I believe at one point, a “Candyland” film was a reality). But the fact remains that, while it’s certainly a cynical, contrived exercise of financial gambling, “Battleship” is a competently made film.

While certainly assembled from a checklist reading “beginning, middle, end, action, boobs, humor, etc.”, a coherent narrative has been assembled. The Hopper brothers are both naval officers with distinct styles: Alex a brilliant slacker and Stone a straight-laced, disciplinary figure. As all the world’s major naval powers are assembled for a series of exercises, several hulking metal objects come crashing down to the Pacific ocean — revealed to be highly sophisticated alien ships, with damn-near the only thing equipped to handle it being the ships at sea. Alex juggles this with his desire to marry the gorgeous Samantha, whose father is also the Commander of the entire Pacific fleet. Melodrama and explosive rounds abound.

It should come as no surprise that “Battleship” is a hollow shell of a narrative with muscle where brain should be, noise where heart should be. Its attempts at counter-balancing this (with its comedic/romantic subplots) are as ineffective as they are harmless. But it finds pathos in the dynamic between the two brother protagonists: actors Taylor Kitsch & Alexander Skarsgard find a relationship with genuine heart — humor at some points, and when tragedy strikes one, even a degree of sadness.

Further acting efforts come with mixed results. Liam Neeson, who seems to be making a habit of elevating mediocre blockbusters’ credibility, has an enjoyable cameo as the Hoppers’ military superior. Conversely, Rihanna gives a performance whose every quip gets progressively more laughable. Brooklyn Decker, too, is a prime example of model-turned-actresses who should have stuck with their first profession.

“Battleship”s greatest evidence of unoriginality lies with its action sequences — in essence, the only reason the damn thing exists in the first place. Where many films have momentum and pacing in their sequences, “Battleship” has noise, clanging and fury. Director Peter Berg certainly demonstrates visual clarity and skill, it’s just that what he’s filming has very little of interest.

The inherit purpose of writing a review is to explore things about a film that aren’t necessarily self-evident, which presents a problem for “Battleship”: it’s all at face value. There’s nothing one can say about “Battleship” that it will not proudly, loudly demonstrate for itself. There’s certainly admirable qualities in that, but also the sort of shamelessness that begetted the project in the first place. D+

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