Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: Battleship

Well, it’s official.  Taylor Kitsch has absolutely no range as an actor.  I thought I would announce that here because it’s probably not a well known fact since according to theatrical box office numbers, most of you have not seen any of his movies.  Having just completed the third leg of the Year of the Kitsch (John CarterSavages, Battleship), I can tell you that he delivered the same performance in each of the movies and that of the three, his work in Battleship was the most onerous. 

When the creative team pitched this film, they probably convinced the fine folks at Universal that they had the winning formula – an amalgamation of ArmageddonFriday Night LightsPearl HarborIndependence Day, and believe it or not – just a tiny bit of Titanic; action director Peter Berg to go along with the long-haired dude from Friday Night Lights; and Rihanna and Brooklyn Decker to provide some eye candy for the young male audience.  And as if all this were not enough to ensure a successful summer popcorn flick, this movie would be based off of Hasbro’s board game, Battleship

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the powers-that-be that the core members of this target demographic probably have never played a board game – let alone Battleship, and those old enough to remember the game would probably consider the premise downright silly.  Still with Peter Berg, director of HancockThe KingdomFriday Nights Lights, and The Rundown, attached to the project and an astronomical budget (upwards of $210M), I had some hope that a entertaining film could rise from the rubble.  Sadly, I was wrong.

Forget the silly association to Battleship and the requisite tedious steps taken to tie back to that Hasbro property, because this is a nuts-and-bolts alien invasion movie set out on the ocean.  There’s nothing new about the premise and unfortunately no acting, no action choreography, and no set design is able to compensate for this banality.  It truly feels like a case of "been there; done that."  Many of the scenes in the film remind you of something you’ve seen somewhere only done better, and if any of your hopes for this movie were pinned to the presence of Liam Neeson, then forget about it.  He’s pure window dressing.

As for the cast, Kitsch is his usual low rumbling monotone self, exuding very little presence.  He doesn’t have the shoulders to carry a movie let alone a big budget blockbuster, but given the right role he can be of value to a cast (as in Savages).  Also along for the ride are Brooklyn Decker and Rihanna, two women who are not known for their acting chops and it doesn’t take long to be reminded of that in this film.  Alexander SkarsgardJesse PlemonsPeter MacNicol, et al are adequate at best and do not do enough to warrant much more than a passing mention, and my best guess is that Liam Neeson probably put in a few days of work at most on this set.

But really, this movie isn’t about the cast.  It’s about the spectacle and of course the silly association with Hasbro.  And while it is very mediocre, it certainly is not the worst movie of the year.  I can’t in good faith recommend it, but I am not vehemently against it.  If I were still living up in the northeast and it was a miserable winter night at the end of a long week, I could see the value in mindlessly watching this film.  But really, if you want an alien invasion film, there are so many better choices.  Ditto, if you are looking for a war epic or even a nautical thriller.  There is no shortage of replacements.  What you have then in Battleship is a movie not bad enough to despise but not good enough to remember.  At the end of the day this kind of cinematic mediocrity is relegated to that figurative place where forgotten movies go while Universal execs are left to lament a $200M investment in Taylor Kitsch (though they can take comfort in knowing that they have company in Disney).

Standout Performance: Tadanobu Asano gets a participation award for having to carry the scene that most tediously tries to evoke memories of the board game and for his attempt to sell that scene with such conviction.