Battle: Los Angeles
Review by John E. Rogers
Not sure how to classify this one: Farm-league Black Hawk Down? Pint-sized Independence Day? Skyline that doesn’t suck?
Slick looking, action-packed but emotionally empty and overlong alien-invasion-pic from South African writer-director Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls). Stolidly scripted by relative newbie Christopher Bertolini. Loads of routine military jargon, but not the brand of rapid-fire jarhead chatter the film deserved. Decent enough cast, with only Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking) truly shining as war-weary Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz. Eckhart’s got just the right ageing physicality and sand-blasted features for the role.
To say this movie is cliché-riddled doesn’t do it justice. It would be more accurate to say it is cliché-driven. Green lieutenant who mans-up just before his cinematically preordained heroic death. Solitary tough-chick outsider (perennial GI Jane Michelle Rodriguez). Beautiful civilian doctor (Bridget Moynahan). Children at rope-dangling risk. Self-sacrificing everyman father. Battle-hardened Non-Com wrestling with painful memories of a prior combat disaster. Grunt struggling secretly with PTSD. 11th hour aim-for-the-brain epiphany of the hero.
And, of course, the now-mandatory implacable faceless aliens with significantly superior firepower who just cannot manage to hit moving, Hell, sometimes even stationary, targets.
These Battle: Los Angeles dudes seemed like a Junior Varsity version of the bigger, badder boys who showed up back in ’96 to fight Will Smith and Bill Pullman in Independence Day. Those guys were the Varsity squad, the lettermen of alien invaders. They had huge ships, force fields, and—of course—city-leveling fire rays.
Our JV aliens didn’t have any of that really tight stuff.
An overly melodramatic score from Brian Tyler (The Expendables), one of the more dependable bang-boom-crash composers in B-movieland, ended up confusing me, not filling me with the requisite spit and vinegar. Flicks like this need what I call the James Horner Treatment: Blaring horns, parade ground drums, and full-court press strings. Not endless gravitas. Endless elegy.
Still, there is some good material tucked into the film here and there. A few reasonably effective micro-back stories in the opening act. Some excellent triangulated handheld camera work, though Lukas Ettlin’s photography—which was all standard, not digital—really should have been shakier, grittier, and grainier.
Die-hard SF action fans will enjoy Battle: Los Angeles. SF Combat fans may even love it—though it’s no Aliens, the benchmark for such fare.
Battle: Los Angeles is propelled by some of the most kick-ass urban warfare footage of recent memory. High quality, state of the art carnage. The kind of stuff that can really, really get your blood pumping.
Too bad you aren’t invested enough in any of the characters to care whether they live or die.
U.S. Release Date: March 11, 2011
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Screen writer: Christopher Bertolini
Running Time: 116 minutes