[Screen It]


(2012) (Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi/Action: Navy personnel and others must battle aliens during an extraterrestrial attack and prevent them from signaling for reinforcements.
After a troubled past, Alex Hopper (TAYLOR KITSCH) has mostly turned his life around and now serves as a lieutenant and Tactical Action Officer onboard the U.S. Navy's USS John Paul Jones, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Commander Stone Hopper (ALEXANDER SKARSGARD), who's the Commanding Officer of the USS Sampson. Both are stationed in Hawaii and are about to partake in the RIMPAC naval exercises held offshore under the watchful eye of Admiral Shane (LIAM NEESON).

But Alex can't let go of his rivalry with Captain Nagata (TADANOBU ASANO) -- Commanding Officer of the Myoko who's also present with his crew for the exercises -- and the resultant fight means he's going to be kicked out of the Navy upon their return to land. He can't bring himself to break that news to his girlfriend, Samantha (BROOKLYN DECKER), a physical therapist who works with the likes of double amputee Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales (GREGORY D. GADSON). That's especially true since Alex was supposed to ask her father -- Admiral Shane -- for her hand in marriage, but that seems in question now.

As does the future of Earth. And that's because unknown to them, scientists including Cal Zapata (HAMISH LINKLATER) had previously sent a signal deep into space to an Earth-like planet in hopes of making contact. It did, but the extraterrestrials that have arrived are not doing so on friendly terms. After landing in the Pacific Ocean, they create an immense and impenetrable force field around their ships, with most of the U.S. and Japanese naval forces stuck on the outside. But a few ended up on the inside, including ships holding Alex and Captain Nagata.

After Alex, Petty Officer Cora Raikes (RHIANNA) and Chief Petty Officer Walter Lynch (JOHN TUI) make an expedition to one of the partially submerged ships, they accidentally activate a number of large crafts that can partially fly and skip across the sea. When the U.S. and Japanese forces open fire, that has calamitous results for their ships and crews. From that point on, Alex, Captain Nagata and others try to figure out how to battle them, while Samantha, Mick and Cal hope to stop the alien invaders from sending a signal back to their planet for reinforcements.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
One of the fun things about being a movie reviewer is that you often learn new information or even just interesting bits of trivia while doing background research on a new release. Granted, that certainly isn't akin to writing a term paper in college or doing CSI style detective work, but a competent critic will usually do some digging for details.

Case in point is this week's release of "Battleship." Like many people of my generation, that was a favorite board game of my childhood in the 1970s, with the familiar TV ads always stating the well-known catch phrase "You sunk my battleship!" From my research, I learned that the game I was familiar with debuted in 1967.

But I also learned that it was originally published in the 1940s as a pad and pencil game known as "Broadsides, the Game of Naval Strategy." And who knew that originated from a two-player paper and pencil guessing game that reportedly originated before WWI? It's obviously been popular with the masses for a long time as a number of variations of the game have been released over the years.

The one thing that didn't surprise me is that Hollywood would eventually swoop in and try to make a movie out of the game. And that's because the collective mindset seems to be that anything with even a semblance of name recognition should automatically be green lit regardless of the idiocy of the idea or the difficulty of translating non-narrative based things into fiction. It's only a matter of time before "Pet Rock vs. Slinky" ends up on the big screen.

Of course, the latest such adaptation craze stems from the wild success of the "Transformer" movies, a concept I thought was dumb at the time as I questioned who would go see a bunch of shape-shifting robots battle each other. Apparently, that number would be millions upon millions of people. Thus, I won't make any predictions about the financial future of "Battleship," but since its advertisements have made it look quite similar to Michael Bay's films, it wouldn't surprise me if a lot of people turn up.

After all, it features a young man (Taylor Kitsch) as the reluctant hero, a hot chick (Brooklyn Decker) in revealing attire, and mechanical invaders from space attacking Earth, thus necessitating hundreds if not thousands of movie special effects crewmembers to create and put all of that visual mayhem up on the screen. And that's something of the pic's curse. For those who hated the "Transformers" films, this will just look like more of the same. For those who loved or at least enjoyed those movies, this might come off as an opportunistic imitator.

That includes Decker standing in for Megan Fox in the eye candy department. Other performances aren't as, um, attractive, with Kitsch doing the standard bad boy turned hero bit, Alexander Skarsgard playing his more disciplined brother, Rihanna making her screen debut as a weapons officer, and Liam Neeson adding some gravitas as the naval commander on the scene. Alas, neither he or anyone else delivers the anticipated catch phrase, but it's nice seeing real-life military veteran Gregory D. Gadson playing a double amputee in the film, along with some old, real-life Navy veterans called into action late in the film.

If anything, the flick certainly excels on the visual action front as it seemingly delivers more bang for the buck than even the recent "Avengers." Some might find it relentless in pummeling the senses with its over-the-top mix of sci-fi and military firepower, but against my better judgment, I actually sort of dug what was offered.

Yes, most of it's silly, often dumb and sometimes illogical, and features some of the worst dialogue of the year at times (courtesy of screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber and/or some bad ad-libbing). It's also ultra predictable and doesn't feature much in the way of character development beyond the hero obviously getting his act together to save the day, movie cliché style.

Unlike Bay's films that are similarly hyped up with cinematic testosterone but rarely grip and pull the viewer into the proceedings, director Peter Berg knows his way around staging and executing his action sequences, many of which managed to yank this jaded viewer along for the ride. Would I have the same reaction upon a second or later viewing? Who knows. But I can say that the film made me want to drive my car fast after seeing it (without much in the way of fast car driving in the film), and that's my pure litmus test for flicks like this.

It also features a somewhat clever adaptation of inserting the basic elements of my beloved childhood board game into the plot, courtesy of an innovative idea proposed by a former rival Japanese naval captain (Tadanobu Asano). For those unfamiliar with the game, it consisted of players blindly firing upon the opponent via verbally called out grid strikes (B-6, F-3, etc.), and if you managed to hit your opponent's ship, they had to insert a peg into their damaged vessel.

The sequence here is clever and works fairly well, with the nice touches being that the alien weaponry lands in Earth's ships like those aforementioned pegs, while this time the Americans and Japanese work together to save Hawaii from attack. And that includes a preposterous but awfully fun third act development that had this former WWII movie fan boy welling up with naval pride.

Simply put, if you have a hankering for a mindless two-hours plus of a movie that combines elements of that along with familiar bits of the "Transformers" films and "Independence Day," you could do far worse than what's offered here. Just make sure you go in with low expectations of anything resembling art and you might find yourself having fun while being yanked along on this over-the-top and dumb joy ride. "Battleship" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 15, 2012 / Posted May 18, 2012

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