Some summer blockbusters manage to shatter their binding stereotypes and entertain audiences and critics. And despite missteps in performances, storyline or direction, a juggernaut of a summer flick can still fulfill the audience’s desire for fun, mindless entertainment.
Battleship is not one of those films.
In fact, the film exceeds any sort of reasonable threshold of mindlessness that it’s only after 100 minutes — out of a droning two hours — of dismissing, insulting and abandoning the audience’s intellect that the finale is remotely plausible. For a $200-million budget, money clearly went anywhere but toward creating a decent film.
Though Jeremy Renner was once in talks to star, the film rests on the supposedly hunky shoulders of Taylor Kitsch — a poor man’s Josh Duhamel — who was better off as a TV football jock than cutting the figure of a Naval officer worthy of inspiring any kind of confidence.
It’s clear by the production’s original choice of Renner that they were going for a bad-boy-turned-leader, but instead ended up with Kitsch as buffoon-turned-maniac.
Kitsch’s Alex Hopper begins as a reckless slacker hoping to impress Sam (Brooklyn Decker), much to the chagrin of his responsible Navy-commander brother, played by Alexander Skarsgård — whose father Stellan clearly chose the superior blockbuster in The Avengers.
Seven years later — after attempting to trick the audience into believing that a Sports Illustrated cover girl will date you for a chicken burrito and a haircut — Kitsch’s character hardly matures. In fact, his arc stops at a clean shave and a new lieutenant’s uniform.
Hopper gets into a hot-headed fistfight over a soccer game with a Japanese captain, which makes you wonder if they can overcome their differences to fight a different foreign threat. Spoiler alert: They do.
In most action films, characters are saved by the quick thinking actions of a superior. But Battleship isn’t like most action films: There is never a turning point where anything beyond blind luck and near misses save Hopper and his officers, forcing the audience to root for good fortune instead of choices the characters make.
Unfortunately, the stereotypical supporting characters don’t make the film much better. The racist wisecracker proves reliable. The tough sniper girl is tough. Then there’s the veteran with prosthetic legs who has lost his will to fight. Will he regain his courage in the 11th hour?
Even the neurotic techie played by Hamish Linklater — almost a carbon copy of Simon Pegg’s character in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol — wears the glasses and scruff but displays none of the humor or charisma to provide comic relief, only annoyance.
Battleship’s main weakness lies in its refusal to show off more of its strongest actors. Liam Neeson’s Admiral Shane — coincidentally Sam’s father and justifiably disapproving of Hopper — isn’t onscreen nearly long enough. In addition, Skarsgård’s character hardly has enough screentime to warrant a star billing.
At one point, the cutaways from Hopper’s ship to the rest of the naval fleet abruptly stop, as if the screenwriters couldn’t think of a justifiable task for an entire fleet to work toward besides bickering with government suits.
Such ridiculousness reaches its peak when, after all other ships within the force field are destroyed, Hopper gets senior veterans to reactivate the historical USS Missouri, which, overlooking major logical fallacies, tries to be a moment of patriotism and hope but instead rings false. And the beginnings of unity, set to an AC/DC track, have the kind of energy and cohesion that was needed within the first half-hour, not the last.
The purely abysmal plot of the film is further shot down with an attempt by director Peter Berg to recreate the gritty look of one of his Friday Night Lights episodes. Instead, the film would have benefited from the sheen of lens flares and flash of J.J. Abrams or Michael Bay. Even John Woo’s over-the-top style could have distracted better from such poor plotlines.
Rather, the dry cinematography emphasizes the failure of the film to reach higher-end expectations.
Also, the production could, in an attempt to conceive a script from a board game, decide that aliens should come into play is absurd.
The audience knows Hopper and company will defeat the aliens; there isn’t even a smidge of surprise throughout the film. When the protagonists succeed, the victory is obvious and unsatisfying.
Simply, the plot, absurd as it might be, would have been acceptably entertaining had the protagonists been likeable. When Rihanna is the most charismatic actor on the ship, the film is obviously on the wrong track. It’s unfortunate that Kitsch is not strong enough of an actor to carry the film himself.
Hopefully, the film industry doesn’t get anymore board game ideas; one shudders to think what suits over in Hollywood will do one day to Chutes & Ladders.