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by Peter Sobczynski

"All Hands On Dreck"
1 stars

When it was first announced that toy manufacturer Hasbro intended on following the success of its previous playroom-to-screen transfers of their "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers" properties with an jumbo-sized cinematic translation of the venerable board game "Battleship," the news was met with a near-universal degree of disdain bordering on downright hostility. After all, while the "Transformers" series and "G.I. Joe" were remarkably awful, the notion of making up stories involving them was not that great of a stretch--they ere basically much more expensive and elaborate version of what little kids had been doing with them since they first hit the market. However, a board game is an entirely different kettle of fish because you can't really invent different stories for such a thing in the way that you can with a set of action figures--you follow the instructions, one person wins, everyone else loses and that's that. "Battleship" is even more complicated in this regard because it doesn't contain an elaborate premise or backstory and it doesn't bring much of anything of value to the table other than a recognizable name.

Of course, a little thing like a property with no story connected to it is hardly the kind of thing to stop a studio in desperate need of a summer blockbuster and so Universal Pictures forged ahead with a version of "Battleship" featuring a screenplay consisting of virtually ever alien-attack film made since "Independence Day" thrown into a blender (but not in a good way), a director who has made some interesting movies in the past but who has never demonstrated the kind of epic visual style required for a beast of this size and scope, a crazy-quilt cast consisting of a young hunk whose last starring effort was one of the biggest bombs of all time, a gorgeous fashion model trying to prove herself as an actress, a gorgeous pop star trying to do the same and a couple of genuinely talented actors clearly slumming in exchange for huge paychecks, over-the-top special effects and a budget reportedly well north of $200 million to pay for all of it. This is such a bizarre combination of elements that there may indeed be some people out there thinking that the end result might be somewhat interesting in a "WTF?" manner but alas, that isn't the case. This film is an assault on the senses made by and for the senseless and if there is one positive thing to take away from the experience, it is the simple fact that every sumer movie season usually contains one or two jaw-dropping disasters of this very sort and at least we have presumably gotten this one's out of the way early enough so that we can more properly prepare for the comparatively dignified and thought-provoking likes of "Prometheus" or the Katy Perry concert film.

For those who have never played the game of "Battleship" before, it is a strategy game in which two players try to guess the coordinates of little plastic ships they have covertly arranged on their game boards and destroy the opposing fleet first. IN other words, like most board games (aside from rounds of Monopoly played against five-year-old dervishes by the name of Mamie), the game itself is kind of a dreary slog punctuated by brief moments of excitement. In a bold move, the film tries to approximate that sensation but while it gets the dreary slog element down pat, those moments of excitement have been cast aside so as to make room for some of the more uninteresting characters and pointless backstory to come along in some time. There is some introductory stuff about the discovery of a new planet in deep space that seems to mirror Earth in most ways (Britt Marling was right!!!) and the beginning of a program designed to make contact with the orb before we are introduced to ne'er-do-well Alex Hooper (Taylor Kitsch), a doofy loaf who, when we first see him, is breaking into a nearby convenience store in order to satisfy the yearning of blonde bombshell Sam (Brooklyn Decker) for a chicken burrito. She seems weirdly charmed by this--even as he is being tased at her feet, but his more responsible brother, naval officer Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), is somewhat less amused because the burrito babe just happens to be the daughter of his commanding officer, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson. . .yes, Liam Neeson) and decides that the only way to set his brother straight is to have him enlist in the Navy as well.

As cinematic depictions of military recruitment go, this is not as quite as convincing as the circumstances that landed Bill Murray in the Army in "Stripes" but on the bright side, it would seem that once Hooper lands in the Navy, it is only a matter of time before the battleshipping begins in interest, right? Alas, despite a leap ahead in time, there is still precious backstory to unload, this time against the all-important RimPac games pitting members of the American and Japanese navies in a series of competitions designed to show off their prowess at military strategy and soccer. Alas, although Hooper looks as snappy as can be in his dress whites, he is still a screw-up and a hothead and when those qualities lead to a fight with the rival Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano), he is dressed down once again by Admiral Shane just as he is about to ask him for his daughter's hand in marriage. To make matters worse, once he and the others ship out on a series of old battleships for a couple of days of war games, Hopper learns that he is going to be drummed out of the service for good. This bums him out, of course, and I suppose that it bums Sam out as well but since she doesn't change her expression once during the entire film, it is a little hard to be sure.

All of this stuff eats up about the first 40 minutes of the film and only when it is all deployed does the film suddenly remember that it is supposed to be an action spectacular. To that end, a group of five alien vessels hurtle towards Earth and crash into the Pacific Ocean outside of Hawaii with a chunk of transmitter breaking off and laying waste to most of Hong Kong for good measure. Hopper leads a small party, including spunky Petty Officer Raikes (Rihanna. . .yes, Rihanna), out to investigate but when he touches the surface of one ship, it emits a powerful forcefield that traps the aging battleships inside to be picked off one by one, prevents any outside ships from getting in and serves as a launch area for the other ships to wreak havoc on the nearby countryside for mysterious reasons. (Yes, I realize that this doesn't make much sense but just go with me on it and we will all get out of here quicker.) Through circumstances too contrived to get into here, douchebag Hopper winds up as the highest-ranking officer inside the bubble and the weight of doing seemingly futile battle with the invaders falls on his shoulders, a task that he almost instantly blows before finally learning to Straighten Up, Fly Right and Become a Team Player. Meanwhile, back on land, physical therapist Sam is trying to inspire her latest charge, Lt. Colonel Mick Canales (real-life vet Gregory D. Gadson), who lost both his legs in Iraq, to feel better about himself by taking him hiking along the coastal cliffs when they stumble right into Alien Central and it is up to them to figure out what the beasts are up to and communicate it to someone before it is too late.

Now I know full well that one generally doesn't look to expensive summer spectaculars--especially ones based on dated board games--but they have to at least make some kind of effort to make sense, at least within their own sphere of existence, if they are to have any chance of success. And yet, even though that bar has been lowered considerably over the last few years, "Battleship" is stupid enough to sink it down even further. Like most films of this type, this is little more than a series of self-contained action set-pieces strung together with a bare minimum of plot but what is offered here is so unforgivably lame that it almost makes the "Transformers" films look borderline tolerable by comparison. There are countless scenes in which millions of dollars of costly but unmemorable special effects are deployed before our eyes while our ears are assaulted by a soundtrack where "11" appears to have symbolized both the starting point and the collective IQ of the mixing team. Say what you will about the sins of Michael Bay, he can at least occasionally string together an arresting bit of imagery but director Peter Berg, who has made some decent movies in the past (such as "Friday Night Lights" and "The Rundown") and who will hopefully do so again in the future, has no flair for over-the-top pyrotechnics of this sort--all he can do is occasionally jerk the camera around so that it feels as though an earthquake is hitting the multiplex (a more-than-decent trade-off, under the circumstances).

As for the story, it may not come as a shock to discover that the screenplay by Erich and Jon Hoeber (the scribes behind masterworks as "Red" and "Whiteout") have created a story that is little more than a gigantic video game. What may come as a surprise to most is that the video game in question turns out to be none other than the infamous "E.T." game that helped to kill the late, great Atari 2600. This is not just an example of pop-culture snark on my part--the plots of both the game and the movie turn out to be strikingly similar, though the only holes to be found in the latter are in the story itself. To limit myself to but one example among many, what is the deal with the alien invaders that have been shoehorned into the story on the assumption that today's audiences wouldn't stand for simple maritime battles? Are these creatures supposed to be inhabitants of the twin planet that Earth was trying to contact or are they merely interlopers who hitched onto the signal and decided to make some mischief. If they are the former and their planet matches ours in every key features, how to explain the weakness that is eventually revealed? If not, how to explain the fact that they have traveled across the galaxy in powerful ships with weapons capable of untold destruction and yet they can be brought down by obsolete ships populated by the guy from "John Carter" and the gal who sang "Umbrella?" Either way, why do the aliens go about such random and senseless destruction only to hesitate at the exact moments when the plot absolutely requires them to not blow people or things up even when they are standing right in front of them. Furthermore, what exactly do they want to do with our planet in the first place and, for that matter, why don't they just send down one major attack wave in order to catch us off guard and be done with it? I don't want to sound snippy here but the aliens in "Battlefield Earth" weren't nearly as flat-out stupid as the ones depicted here.

I also realize that one shouldn't judge the performances in a film of this type against the standards that one might apply to a film featuring a plausible screenplay and coherent direction but again, "Battleship" fails to live up to whatever meager expectations one might have in this regard. Coming off of the massive bomb that was "John Carter," Taylor Kitsch really needed a vehicle that would legitimately present him as a strong and charismatic male lead and for his sake, I certainly hope that Oliver Stone's "Savages" does the trick in that regard because he comes off here as such a vapid and uninteresting blank that he almost makes Taylor Lautner seem deep and profound by comparison. Making her screen acting debut, Rihanna seems to have been cast solely to beef up the film's babe quotient and get it some further exposure in places like MTV and the like because none of the charisma and attitude that she displays so handily in her videos can be detected here--for the most part, all she does is look up in the sky or at a computer screen with an expression of either slack-jawed amazement or grim determination. That said, at least she gets two different expressions, which is approximately three more than the number offered up by Brooklyn Decker in a performance that marks her as a graduate of the Kathy Ireland School of Acting--nothing but standing around and looking pretty while reacting to everything with a look of dull surprise on her kisser. The end result is the first performance that I can think of that Rosie Huntington-Whitely could turn her perfectly formed nose up at without seeming catty. As for Neeson and Skarsgard--two guys who actually can act and who can maintain a certain gravitas no matter how silly their surroundings--they appear to have both chosen the sanest possible approach by picking roles that are small enough so that they aren't on the screen embarrassing themselves too much. (During their presumably considerable downtime, I like to think that they were in a dressing room playing the actual "Battleship" game and I suspect that if that were the case, those matches would have been far more exciting than anything seen here.)

"Battleship" is complete crap from start to finish--it doesn't work as spectacle, it doesn't work as a nostalgia piece for fans of the game and outside of one or two clunker lines (including the likes of "It's a miss!" and "Best cover your ears"--truer words were never spoken)--and I am announcing right now that anyone who writes in to complain that I am too old or grouchy to enjoy a "popcorn" film like this is a grade-A moron. In fact, the closest thing to suspense or excitement that it generates comes from leaving viewers to wonder which cast member will have the privilege of reciting the all-but-inevitable line "You sunk my battleship!"--hell, at the press screening, a number of my colleagues actually formed a betting pool to guess who it would be. (I wouldn't dream of revealing it here--though I might privately if you ask nicely--but suffice it to say, the film manages to screw up even that seemingly sure-fire moment as well.) Other than that, there is nothing on display here that any sentient being might find to be at all entertaining (although there is one scene that Chris Brown will definitely be thrilled with beyond all measure) unless they have always dreamed of one day being slammed over the head with a pinball machine for 131 minutes. If that is your idea of a good time, then by all means go see "Battleship." If not, you will most likely find yourself screaming "Turn it off!!" or at least "Jumanji."

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19905&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/17/12 17:30:09
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User Comments

6/25/18 Louise Crapola 1 stars
12/28/17 morris campbell decent 3 stars
5/11/16 David Hollingsworth A ludicrous piece of crap clearly marketed to kids. 1 stars
8/01/13 Suzie Williams Average alien action movie. Not as terrible as I'd heard, but it wasn't very good either. 3 stars
9/14/12 mr.mike I liked the old guys on The Missouri. 3 stars
8/22/12 Martha Rios Dissapointing 2 stars
5/25/12 -- Saw it because of Liam Neeson and he is not really even in the movie 2 stars
5/20/12 Darkstar I'd rather take a cannon blast to the junk than sit through that again. 1 stars
5/19/12 Kim luvdeej@yahoo.com 5 stars
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  18-May-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 28-Aug-2012


  DVD: 28-Aug-2012

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