Monday, March 14, 2011

Movie Review: Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles **
Directed by:
Jonathan Liebesman.
Written by: Christopher Bertolini.
Starring: Aaron Eckhart (SSgt. Michael Nantz), Ramon Rodriguez (2nd Lt. William Martinez), Cory Hardrict (Cpl. Jason Lockett), Gino Anthony Pesi (Cpl. Nick Stavrou), Ne-Yo (Cpl. Kevin Harris), James Hiroyuki Liao (LCpl. Steven Mottola), Bridget Moynahan (Michele), Noel Fisher (Pfc. Shaun Lenihan), Adetokumboh M'Cormack (Corpsman Jibril Adukwu), Bryce Cass (Hector Rincon), Michael Peña (Joe Rincon), Michelle Rodriguez (TSgt. Elena Santos), Neil Brown Jr. (LCpl. Richard Guerrero), Taylor Handley (LCpl. Corey Simmons).

Battle: Los Angeles is big, loud and dumb – but also at least sporadically entertaining. It really wants to be the Black Hawk Down of alien invasion movies, and seems to have studied Ridley Scott’s masterful war film (is it Scott’s best? It’s pretty damn close), but also the work of Paul Greengrass (the second two Bourne films, along with United 93 and Green Zone), because the camera never seems to settle. It is constantly moving, the rapid fire editing never slows down as the film dives headlong into marines vs. aliens battle. When the movie is concentrating on the fight between these two opposing forces it works. But when it slows down, and allows it many characters to talk, it grinds to a halt. We don’t care about any of these characters – have in fact a tough time telling them apart – and the dialogue is so awful in parts, you simply shake your head. The ingredients are here for a fine film – but it never really comes together.

The movie begins like many war movies do – with scenes where the filmmakers introduce us to all the characters we will see for the rest of the movie. They do this to try and humanize the characters, who for the next two hours will be anything but human, but whatever. So we have the grizzled veteran (Aaron Eckhart), whose actions on his last tour in Iraq made him a hero – and got many of his men killed – so he has decided to retire after his current training assignment in LA. There is the new Commanding Officer (Ramon Rodriguez) fresh out of school and confident he can lead. There is the brother of one of the men Eckhart got killed (Cory Hardict) who is still bitter about it. There is the man about to get married (Ne-Yo) and his wise cracking best friend (Gino Anthony Pesi). And on and on it goes – introducing these characters, just so when the fight begins, we at least have a chance to figure out who the hell just got killed.

These opening scenes don’t work – they hardly ever work in movies – but pretty soon we leave character development behind. Strange things are happening the world over – things are falling from the sky all over along the coastlines. It isn’t long before we know what those things are – aliens – and that they are not friendly. They are out to destroy humanity. They want our resources, and we are simply in the way. Because their technology is so advanced, humans have little chance against them, and they wipe out cities quickly. The last line of defense, at least in LA, is the marines. And they fight bravely.

When the movie concentrates on action, it pretty much works. Director Jonathan Liebsman (Darkness Falls, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) may not be a great filmmaker by any stretch, but here he proves he can direct action, and uses special effects to great effect. Typically, I am tired of the rapid fire editing style, and the non-stop camera movement that most action movie directors use today. It becomes difficult, if not impossible, to orient yourself to the action and figure out what the hell is going on. But Liebsman avoids this trap somehow. I knew where everyone was, and what was happening, and why and the scenes where the marines and aliens are engaged in firefights – which to be honest is roughly half the movie – work quite well. The aliens are at times barely glimpses – a mass force moving rapidly towards you – sometimes little more than a blur. But their presence is real. A great sequence features Eckhart torturing a wounded alien – not to get information or out of cruelty, but because he needs to figure out how to kill the damn thing. To describe them would be hard, but let’s just say they reminded me of the aliens for Aliens, Predator and District 9 rolled into one and call it a day.

The problem with the movie is that it feels the need to slow down at some points, and allow the characters to make big speeches. These scenes are somewhat necessary in movies like this I suppose to try and humanize the characters, and because you cannot go 110 mph for a whole two hours without exhausting the audience. It’s here where the movie really grinds to a halt. I don’t really mind the fact that it glamorizes Marines – they are heroes who put themselves on the line – but did it need to glamorize them all? There seems to be a running contest throughout the movie over which Marine can be the most selfless and sacrificing. At times, they feel more like robots than people.

If you like big, loud, dumb action movies – where the pleasure comes from watching thousands of rounds of ammunition being fire, and things blowing up, then Battle: Los Angeles will most likely satisfy you. It does all of that and then some. But for me, I kind of wish they had made this movie is bigger, louder and dumber. We didn’t need all the scenes that grind the movie to a halt while everyone makes speeches – we certainly didn’t to add civilians, and children, at that matter to the mix. They simply distract you from what the movies does well.

No comments:

Post a Comment