15 March 2011

Movie Review: Battle: Los Angeles

D-Battle: Los Angeles
2011, 116mins, 12
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writer: Christopher Bertolini
Cast includes: Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Cory Hardrict, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena, Ne-Yo
UK Release Date: 11th March 2011
There’s a special place in cinematic hell for “Battle: Los Angeles”, a despicably dumb and overbearing effort that deafens as regularly as it bores. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, the film imagines itself as a blend of “Black Hawk Down” and “Independence Day”, putting a hefty military spin on the alien invasion subgenre. The movie does a decent job of capturing the frantic essence one imagines infantry divisions face in modern warfare, but fails in virtually every other department. The screenplay is appalling, whilst due to the relentless barrage of inert destruction we’re tasked with absorbing the actors simply become irrelevant. “Battle: Los Angeles” is essentially more akin to a videogame than a theatrically released motion picture.

Aliens have invaded Earth, rolling out a tirade of violence in most of the world’s major cities. In Los Angeles a group of military grunts led by young Lt. Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) and Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) are tasked with rescuing a group of civilians before the cityscape is tactically obliterated. Nantz is a man recovering from the trauma of a troubled tour of duty in Afghanistan, this mission likely to be his last in the field. As the platoon maneuvers through the desecrated remnants of LA they are forced to do battle with the hostile extraterrestrials, finding the invaders both merciless and tricky to kill. After collecting the civilians (amongst them Michael Pena and a tired looking Bridget Moynahan), the squad is forced to try and escape Los Angeles before it’s burnt to the ground.

“Battle: Los Angeles” wastes no time in reaching top speed, quickly forgoing its formulaic and clich├ęd human components in favor of bland action. There’s no point in assessing the performances because nobody involved has any proper chance to register, Liebesman and writer Christopher Bertolini choking out the very concept of characterization through their wretched input. I’m happy enough for useless thespians like Ramon Rodriguez and Michelle Rodriguez to squander their nonexistent talents here, but Aaron Eckhart and Michael Pena really should know better. There’s no depth or humanity within the confines of “Battle: Los Angeles”, leaving me curious as to why the actors were drawn to the project in the first place.

Liebesman certainly manages to infuse a sense of scale into proceedings through his intense use of CGI, but fails to make his set-pieces exciting or stimulating. An early shootout between the marines and aliens occasionally musters some tension, but Liebesman feels the need to move away from this more intimate style of combat cinema, immediately pummeling viewers with sequences of bombastic carnage that would shame Roland Emmerich. There’s no soul or purpose evident during these moments of outright annihilation, Liebesman far more infatuated with big guns than his terrified protagonists. The characters are never engaging, meaning the action quickly becomes fully devoid of suspense or momentum. Visually it’s all top notch, but under the bonnet “Battle: Los Angeles” is a consistently cold and corny blockbuster.

The villains haunt the outskirts of the movie, often just off frame or marginally out of focus. I can’t imagine this was a budgetary concern, instead it must be a further tool deployed to try and concoct an organically distorted aura of chaos. “Battle: Los Angeles” certainly has no trouble constructing a crazed and dizzyingly kinetic atmosphere, Liebesman throwing the camera around like a javelin. Of course this also means large chunks of the movie are completely incomprehensible, it becomes wearisome trying to keep track of all the cardboard characters and unimaginative narrative objectives. Bertolini’s first draft probably did have some sort of structure, but it’s not evident in the disorganized and messy final product presented here.

Composer Brian Tyler adds another subpar score to his CV with “Battle: Los Angeles”, his intrusive musical input adding to the headache inducing noisiness that ultimately consumes this awful picture. The project doesn’t even provide an enjoyable finale, instead opting for an obvious climactic skirmish coupled with the sort of mawkish military heroics one expects from a lesser Michael Bay production. “Battle: Los Angeles” is a frighteningly inept endeavor, an unintelligible and shallow example of what can occur when a bunch of hacks get their hands on $70 million. It’s a cultural warning not to be ignored.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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