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Movie review: Bombastic ‘Battleship’ shoots blanks

Dennis King Published: May 18, 2012
Rihanna
Rihanna

The United States of Hasbro breaks out the big FX guns in a noisy, clunky, vainglorious effort to transform its dated board game “Battleship” into a big, brassy summer blockbuster of the Michael Bay kind.

Bay, who has managed to cobble the giant toy and game manufacturer’s Transformers action-figure line into a silly but serviceable summer sci-fi franchise, is not at the helm of this leaky vessel. That distinction goes to director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights”), who steers the groaning accumulation of clichés, stereotypes, bombastic action and cardboard characters through a very predictable, ear-thumping, mind-numbing voyage.

Taking off from a ponderous screenplay by brothers Erich and Jon Hoeber (“Red”), the story largely centers on the USS John Paul Jones, a Navy battleship engaged in maneuvers with the Japanese off the coast of Hawaii.

In an overlong setup we’re introduced to longhaired bad boy Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, limping away from “John Carter”), who is steered straight by his spit-and-polished military brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard) and convinced to join the U.S. Navy.

Leap ahead to the Pacific naval exercise, and Alex is now a slyly insubordinate officer on the USS John Paul Jones, still in trouble with the brass but indispensible when humongous alien spaceships show up in the sky overhead and create a force field that traps the Jones and two other ships at sea.

The extraterrestrials (gnarly, bearded beings whose craft bear a suspicious resemblance to Transformers) are on an exploratory mission to survey Earth and decide whether or not to blow it to smithereens.

But the Navy gets in the first shot and the battle is underway, with intrepid Lt. Alex Hopper taking on a yeoman’s share of the fighting.

Naturally, he’s backed up by an only-in-Hollywood contingent of shipmates – supermodel Brooklyn Decker as a buff, kick-butt physical therapist; Hamish Linklater in comic relief as the communications geek; Liam Neeson in an eye-blink turn as the grumpy admiral; pop-star Rihanna doing a Michele Rodriguez impression as a red-haired spitfire manning the big guns, and real-life war hero and double amputee Col. Gregory D. Gatson in a gimmicky cameo of sorts.

Despite the rather perfunctory presence of these humans, the real stars of the movie are the battleships and aliens and the virtual army of behind-the-scenes hardware wranglers, computer programmers, visual-effects specialists, special-effects techs and stuntmen (whose end-credits scroll numbers several hundred names and runs on and on and on).

Berg deserves some credit for engineering the blustery, big-bang action sequences with verve and a certain visual artfulness. It’s as if he hopes the eye-dazzling fireworks and busy spectacle will distract us from the utterly inane story he’s telling.

“Battleship’s” story is truly goofy and dumb. Anytime a character in an action movie utters a line like, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” you know you’re in for a barrage of clichés, trite conceits and tired old action-movie tropes. But, then, what more could we expect from a story inspired by a clash between board-game conventions and action-figure contraptions?

- Dennis King

“Battleship”

 

PG-13

2:11

1 1/2 stars

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna

(Intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language)