Chris's Film Reviews

Battle: LA (2010)

A review by Chris Harris, who has been going to the movies for half a century, so he's seen quite a few films in his time.


Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Michelle Rodriguez, Will Rothhaar, Ne-Yo

I'm writing a review of a movie I saw several weeks ago primarily because I've realised - after rereading the other reviews I've written over the years - that in general I've only written about movies that made an overwhelmingly positive impression on me. In fact, with the exception of the The Matrix Revolutions review you might have gained the impression from the stuff here that I can be a bit of a gushing fanboy. In the interests of balance, I've decided that this can no longer stand and I need to cover the rest of my cinema visits with the same enthusiasm I have hitherto reserved for the really good films I've seen. Once I'd made that decision, there was only one film I could possibly write about, and that is Jonathan Liebesman's alien invasion movie Battle: LA.

The punctuation of the title alone was enough to raise doubts about its likely quality. Stanley Kubrick's extraordinary and brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey obviously has a profound effect on directors who want their magnum opus to have an equally portentous ring to it, but rather than actually putting the work into making something equally stunning it's far easier to just chuck a colon in the title. A large number of the real stinkers I've seen in the past decade or so have done so - AI: Artificial Intelligence, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Wars: Episode 1, TRON: Legacy all spring to mind and I'm sure there are others that my subconscious is trying desperately to block out. But I'm ever the optimist, and when another big-budget science fiction epic comes along, there's a good chance I'm going to be talked into watching it; punctuation be damned.

I hadn't seen any trailers for the movie, and I'd only seen a few stills on the web, so I knew next to nothing about the plot. That's probably why I was persuaded to see the film, as if I'd known how bad it was likely to be I wouldn't have wasted my time or money on it. But let's put that to one side for now. As the film begins, what little plot there was gets established with the minimum amount of effort or creativity required. Our ensemble is introduced without the need for anything remotely resembling detailed character or emotional engagement. Aaron Eckhart is about to retire from the United States Marine Corps (who appear to make up a significant proportion of the population of Los Angeles.) The squad he is about to encounter are introduced in one-minute sketches consisting of a couple of sentences each, scenarios of such mind-numbing predictability that I found myself picking out which ones I wanted to die first. Needless to say, Eckhart's retirement plans are scuppered when an alien invasion force arrives, although his superiors seem curiously slow on the uptake and large chunks of the planet are already being levelled before anyone thinks to get him involved. However, the authorities eventually see sense, bundling him into a helicopter with a bunch of inexperienced recruits (of course) and before you can say Black Hawk Down they've been catapulted into the middle of the action and are fighting for their lives.

The next hour unfolds with such tedious predictability that I was soon muttering to myself in disgust. Something's moving up ahead: "It'll be a dog. (Pause) Oh look, it is." The squad bond with the pooch: "Right, now they'll get shot at for real. (Bang!) There you go..." The weedy guy in the squad is separated from his buddies, and unaccountably overcomes a technologically and physically superior alien which, vanquished, falls into a swimming pool. When his buddies turn up, I was muttering "Bad guy's bound to jump straight back out of the pool in three, two, one... (Sploosh!) Knew it." Things brighten up somewhat when Michelle Rodriguez appears, although rather than establishing any sort of background for her character the film's approach is entirely geared around "Look, we've got the same helicopter pilot from Avatar in our movie, that makes this cool, right?"

The filmmakers plunder the SF and war movie cliché boxes without shame or restraint, rendering the film lifeless and two-dimensional. However bad it was as a film, at least Roland Emmerich tried to give us some insight into the invading aliens with Brent Spiner's scene in Independence Day. Here, they are simply sprites from some expensively rendered video game, something that exists to shoot, be shot at, and occasionally explode. The film even has boss levels, for chrissakes. To be honest, if I'd spent an hour and a half playing space invaders I'd probably have enjoyed myself more than I did watching this film. The plot would have been more believable, anyhow.

This is science fiction written by people with no knowledge of the genre and even less respect for it. We're expected to believe that the aliens are invading because the Earth is the only place in the universe where liquid water exists, despite the fact that we are also shown it existing inside an alien's circulatory system and are told (via a convenient talking head on a news report - without question the laziest exposition device currently known to mankind) that they are fuelling their machines with the stuff. However, I don't wish to give you the mistaken impression that the writing is merely dull and predictable. The writing would only succeed in being banal if it didn't plunge regularly into outright incoherence. The only scene in the film that even remotely approaches competence has Eckhart trying to motivate the surviving members of his squad who are all convinced that he doesn't give a toss about their fate. He makes a half-decent stab at it, invoking the memories of his fallen comrades and vowing that he will never forget them. There might even be the hint of a tear in his eye. You can see the squad begin to reassess their opinions of the man who has brought here. Wow, I was thinking. Maybe I've judged this film too harshly. But then in possibly the most jaw-dropping moment of ineptitude I have ever seen in a film, the director throws it all away by having Eckhart come out with the vapid line "...but that's not important right now." W? T? F?

From that point on, the only word I could think of to describe my reaction to the film was "scorn." It really is that bad.

So bad, in fact, that I can't bring myself to write about it any more. Enough's enough.

Chris's rating: One star. And that's just because Michelle Rodriguez is in it.

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