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May 22, 2012

Nobody seriously expected a movie like Battleship to be any good. This is the spiritual successor to the Transformers series, which consistently sets new cinematic lows, but even so I was unprepared for just how awful it could be. I mean, Peter Berg directed Hancock and Very Bad Things, and those were at least fun. I expected the sensory assault of stuff getting blowed up real good — thankfully it wasn’t flung at me in 3D — but there was no warning for just how poorly written, acted, and shot it could be.

The only important character whose name is firmly established without overwhelming background noise is Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch). Alex is a world-class screwup who has somehow managed to become a lieutenant in the Navy within six years from the point his brother (Alexander Skarsgård) forced him to enlist. In fact, the only person who doesn’t think he’s a screwup is his girlfriend (Brooklyn Decker), the VA physical therapist daughter of the fleet admiral (Liam Neeson). He even gets in a fight right before some big naval war games with the captain of one of the Japanese ships (Tadanobu Asano), which may lead to his dishonorable discharge.

But while the ships are at sea, aliens attack! Evidently we sent out a message to an exoplanet that seemed promising to support life, and the locals have come back, guns blazing, just as one of the astronomers (Hamish Linklater) warned by quoting Stephen Hawking. In the initial skirmish they send up a giant impenetrable dome containing both Hawaii and one surviving ship.

Of course, this ship carries Alex, the Japanese captain, and a crew of stock characters (John Tui, Jesse Plemons, and Rihanna standing in for the absent Michelle Rodriguez). And on Oahu we have the astronomer, the admiral’s daughter, and her patient (Gregory D. Gadson), an Army soldier who has lost both his legs and his will to fight.

Okay, this movie is not here to provide high drama or well-developed characters, but there’s stupid and then there’s stupid. Every single line and every single shot is a cliché. A blow-em-up movie like this has to use its first act to make me care about at least one character, and despite taking forever it still failed. The writing was so excruciatingly brain-dead I kept checking my watch, hoping the deafening explosions would start and drown out the people talking.

But as a wiser man than me said, just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand; here, too, we find disappointment. Nothing makes any kind of sense. I won’t even both with the mockery this movie makes of physics beyond the fact that there are only four stars that any of our signals could have reached within six years — forget leaving time for the aliens’ return trip — and we’re positive none of them have any planets. And beyond two tiny nods there’s nothing that has anything to do with the abstract strategy game that supposedly inspired — if that word even applies — the movie.

As far as the script itself, here’s a representative example: the aliens have some sort of heads-up targeting system that decides — with amazingly stupid results — what is tactically worth destroying or not. They actually expend effort going around a person not deemed a threat rather than just steamrolling straight through. I think someone actually asked at one point why the aliens weren’t attacking them; the only rational thought in the entire script went completely unanswered.

Before I end, I feel it’s only fair to say at least one positive thing about this steaming pile: Decker’s performance was not nearly as useless and insulting as Megan Fox’s or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s. That’s pretty much the entire upside.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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