Hollywood has made movies based on just about everything. They’ve made movies based on fairy tales, movies based on old TV shows, and even movies based on video games. So should it come as a surprise to anyone that they would make a movie based on an old Hasbro board game? I guess it would be more accurate to say that “Battleship” is loosely based on the popular board game that first appeared in 1967. Obviously the story has little to do with the back-and-forth game itself, but in some ways it’s just as boring as watching two people play. This movie is all about the visual eye candy with almost no attention given to storytelling or dialogue. But visuals only take you so far and at about 130 minutes long, the movie eventually becomes an almost tedious exercise in endurance.
The story is about as shallow and stripped down as they come. Taylor Kitsch plays Alex, a shaggy-haired loser who always finds a way to get into trouble. Fed up with Alex’s “do nothing” approach to life, his older brother comes up with a great idea – force Alex to join him in The United States Navy. Apparently there’s nothing to joining and advancing in the Navy because next we see Alex as a lieutenant aboard the USS John Paul Jones. He’s still getting into trouble and eventually finds himself on the verge of being tossed out. But that’s before a hostile alien force lands near Hawaii and Alex’s leadership may be the only thing that can save the planet. Sense some all too familiar storylines here? How about this one – he wants to marry his girlfriend (Brooklyn Decker) who happens to be his commander’s daughter. I’ll bet you can figure out how that plays out. Oh, and this one – Alex is forced to work alongside his chief rival (Tadanobu Asano) in order to survive and save mankind. It’s pretty obvious where that goes isn’t it?
Jon and Erich Hoeber’s script is riddled with cheesy dialogue and there’s not a single action movie cliché that isn’t used here. If you’ve seen any of these types of movies you will see where the amateurish plotting is going from a mile away. Director Peter Berg tries to give the film some credibility and weight with his heavy-handed use of patriotism and military camaraderie. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the message but the cut-rate execution makes it feel like a cheap knock-off of a number of other films. And it’s impossible to take any of these attempts seriously mainly due to some horribly written and sometimes unintentionally hilarious dialogue. I found myself completing a character’s sentence just because their lines were so familiar. I also caught myself laughing several times during dramatic moments that weren’t meant to be funny.
Now let’s be clear, “Battleship” doesn’t aim to be anything more than a simple, loud, CGI-heavy, summer popcorn picture that strictly adheres to the Michael Bay “Transformers” formula. It bombards you with large-scale special effects sequences, many of which are quite impressive yet undeniably repetitive. I can’t count how many times we see alien ships hopping up and down out of the water or arming their weapons over and over in what looks like the exact same scenes. But the film does at times look spectacular and it can be fun in occasional bursts. There is one particular sequence where the aliens send a metal rollie pollie that literally shreds a destroyer vessel from the inside out. Sure they rip off a couple of scenes from James Cameron’s “Titanic” as the ship sinks but it’s still a wildly impressive scene.
Maybe I’m just getting old but this film left a lot of potential on the table. I suppose “Battleship” would work for the passive movie fan or if you were 12 years old. But even those folks won’t rush to see it again. Yet I have to admit there are some amazing visuals here and I did find myself occasionally caught up in them. But underneath the bombastic veneer of grinding metal, explosions, and destruction lies a corny and often times ridiculous story that can’t be saved by the fancy coat of CGI paint. “Battleship” is a hard film to rate. Narratively speaking its a train wreck. But it’s a visually stunning wreck which makes the experience bearable. But I need more than that in my movies.