♣♣ out of ♣♣♣♣♣
There is a painful moment in Battle: Los Angeles where everything starts to go wrong, it’s like a car crash you know is going to happen. The movie opens with newscasters telling us that “meteors” have crashed into the ocean off the coast of the world’s major cities. They tell us how the objects that crashed were really an alien invasion force that has started a coordinated attack on our planet. The lead character, a 20-year-veteran staff sergeant played by Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, The Core, Erin Brokovich), is shown gathering weapons and gear, his men doing the same. We’ve seen this before, when a movie opens with Marines preparing to enter battle, from Private Ryan to Black Hawk Down to Aliens, a strong platoon-getting-ready-to-kick-butt opening scene is tried and true… and it works here in B:LA. The chaotic buzz of a forward command base as soldiers mount up and ride into battle (to a rousing score) lulls us in with familiarity and intrigues us with the plot. We start thinking that “Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day” might be pretty cool as the choppers all take off and fly over a battle-ravaged Santa Monica. Guns cock, equipment is checked, all those really cool sound-effects that come along with a pre-combat action scene… and then comes that moment…
We tense up as Eckhart leans back in the chopper and gets that far away look in his eyes, the music builds and we’re screaming a the screen, “No please don’t ruin this awesome start with a hoaky flas…” But it’s too late. Our only solace is the black words on the screen- Santa Monica, 24 hours prior to contact. I had been on the edge of my seat… now I sighed and sipped my soda.
After the opening scene that worked so well, comes a flash back that just doesn’t at all. We spend 30 minutes getting backstory and exposition, meeting all of the characters, and learning that staff sergeant Eckhart is a day from retiring when ET splashes off the pier. There is a particularly riveting scene where a newscrew on the boardwalk catches a few coast guard cutters being tossed around in the surf and gets the first glimpses of the attacking alien soldiers (before being blasted out of the movie by one of ET’s cool multi-missile cannons). The Marines get scooped up during training operations by big brown trucks and suddenly we’re back at the beginning of the movie. With me?
Once the troops are on the ground, the pace picks up quickly. Trapped in the dense smoke of the raging battle around them, they move from house to house while aliens hop from rooftops with projectile weapons, picking off grunts one by one. Something I wrote down during the movie was, “the curious art of reassembling other movies,” and that seems to be a motif in today’s Hollywood. We see parts of movies (plot points, story arcs, suspenseful twists) we’ve seen before re-worked and put together with other parts from other movies we’ve seen before… slap new and cooler fx on it, and that’s what passes for originality these days. The rest of the plot follows the troops as they first try to get out of Santa Monica before the big bombs drop, second attempt to take out the aliens’ command center before the whole city falls. The waves of overly-sentimental hoo-rah cheese start to bring a tide of campiness that the movie ultimately can’t recover from.
This movie is perfect for anyone who’s wise to the $4 matinées at Cinemark 17… Because it really needs to be seen on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong, this movie will appeal to a certain crowd that will shell out $10 for a ticket and a soda to anything involving A) Aliens, B) Marines, C) Really neato fx, D) Destruction on a MASS SCALE, E) All of the above.
In the end Battle: Los Angeles comes up short, although I did not hate the movie, I did feel cheated when it was all over. I tried my absolute hardest for 156 minutes to like this movie but in the end I couldn’t do it… I couldn’t walk out of the theater with the “right on!” the filmmakers were trying to get me to do (either that or sign up for the Marine Corps, I’m not sure). So while I will undoubtedly watch it again once it’s released on Blu-Ray (simply for the joy of cranking up my home theater), I’ll still have to do some convincing to get anyone else to watch it with me after this review. See you guys at the movies!