Depending on the media, this film is called “Battle Los Angeles” (on screen, the first word above the other two), or “Battle: Los Angeles” and “Battle: L.A.” (print ads, trailers, etc.). Colon or not, it earns just more than two dots–er, stars–as an adequate, occasionally thrilling, sci-fi shoot-em-up; a poor man’s “Independence Day” with enough smoke, dirt, and firepower to send you choking from the theater. Director Jonathan Liebesman desperately tries to channel Michael Bay, but the everyone’s-a-hero screenplay by Chris Bertolini (only previous feature: 1999’s lame “The General’s Daughter”) lacks the seat-of-your-pants gallows humor of Bay’s still very watchable classic. After just three horror features (straight-to-video “The Killing Room,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” and “Darkness Falls,”), Liebesman’s move to sci fi tackles the conventional us-vs.-them scenario with standard issue techniques and themes, which carry the film enough that audiences will chomp down on abundant popcorn and soda.
While we all thought the City of Angels was in ruins by the end of last year’s undernourished “Skyline,” apparently the real attack will start in the near future, specifically August 12th, this year, as the enemy storms the California beaches, WWII’s Invasion of Normandy an obvious reference point. The runty remnants of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” must have, by then, strayed from their July 1st opening into the current attraction, as “Battle’s” chrome-colored critters seem to be styled after small-scaled versions of those robot-shifting creations mated with Cylons from “Battlestar Galactica.” But now everyone of them is a mean, metal, fighting machine who collectively plan world annihilation. They’re pretty close to their goal as a small platoon of U.S. Marines out of Camp Pendleton, including world-weary, 20-year-veteran “I thought I was retired” Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), commence on a what-were-they-thinking rescue mission to a West Los Angeles Police Station.
The bumpy ride for the small group starts out poorly and heads to the the deep end of a neighborhood pool as one marine’s first encounter with the shows the attackers extremely resilient to good ole American weapons of mass destruction. The tactical unit, an amalgam of skin colors and nationalities that screams “We are the World,” gets just enough back story that the Nigerian-born soldier who wants to be a doctor and the veterinarian civilian (Bridget Moynahan) the band rescues can perform an impromptu pocket-knife autopsy and figure out the visitors’ anatomical weak spots. When a techie grunt (Michelle Rodriguez) joins the rag tag survivors, she’s got the know-how that might mean the end-all to the planet’s current dire situation. Rodriguez, as always, gives her determined best in this typecast role. See 2009’s “Avatar” for the most recent macho good gal comparison.
Eckhart, best known for his dramatic and romantic roles, showcases bravado in acceptable doses, certainly better than he did in his last starring role in a big sci-fi film, 2003’s disappointing “The Core.” The key members of the platoon are introduced with small military subtitles without first names, like ‘Cpl. N. Stavrou’ (Gino Anthony Pesi) and ‘Cpl. K. Harris’ (Ne-Yo), all in the 24-hour period prior to hell breaking loose. Each has their own tic or problem. One knows flowers, another has battle stress issues. Toss in a virgin who can’t hold his liquor, a father-to-be, etc., and you get the idea that the marines are searching for a few good men in all shapes and sizes.
Composer Brian Tyler pushes the right chords and swells the music at the appropriate moments to provide the foreboding sense of thrill and danger afoot. It’s not memorable, but it serves its manipulative purpose. For any aimless individuals in the audience, it, and the film, may push them into the armed forces recruitment centers. Hoo-rah! Hell yes, sir, I want to join the marines and kick alien butt!
Taking a hint from “District 9,” cinematographer Lukas Ettlin (who was the second unit d.p. on the original “Transformers” film) takes the tried and true handheld approach, which works well to give “Battle” the realistic look of a this type of action picture deserves.
“Battle Los Angeles” doesn’t bring anything new to the alien attack genre. And for a laugh, look at the price of gasoline at a service station the troops use as an explosive prop. I guess the Libyan problem has been solved by the near future of this film’s time frame and prices have been dramatically rolled back!