Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, scenes of destruction and sustained, intense violence. Running time: 116 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Between an apocalyptic plotline and a $100+ million budget, it’s no wonder that “Battle: L.A.” is being touted as the first summer blockbuster of 2011. Forget the fact that it’s still winter, from the breathtaking panoramas to the bombastic pyrotechnics to the eye-popping special f/x to the mob scenes of mass hysteria, this film is filled with fixings which just scream 4th of July weekend.
And provided you’re prematurely in the mood for such unseasonably-overblown fare, “Battle: L.A.” won’t disappoint. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel), this high-impact, action flick revolves around the daring exploits of a rag-tag team of Marines representing the last hope for humanity in the wake of an alien invasion which is decimating the planet.
As the film opens, we are introduced to Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) as he’s called on the carpet for his soldiers having suffered heavy casualties in Iraq. The humiliated platoon leader grudgingly agrees to retire, but not before first helping to whip their replacements into fighting shape.
The new unit is a motley crew of readily-recognizable archetypes. There’s Nantz, the proverbial, battle-hardened veteran who now has to report to an untested lieutenant (Ramon Rodriguez). We also have a raw recruit (Noel Fisher) so young he had to get his parents’ permission to enlist; a corporal (Jim Parrack) suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since his last tour of duty; a soldier (Ne-Yo) set to marry his sweetheart; another (Taylor Handley) who knows about Nantz’s checkered past; and the brother (Cory Hardict) of a G.I. who died overseas under the disgraced sergeant’s command. You get the idea.
This freshly-forged band of brothers is about to ship out when a mysterious meteor shower morphs into a lethal legion of hostile extraterrestrial armed to the teeth and bent on world domination. With the entire globe suddenly under siege, instead of being deployed to the Middle East, our intrepid heroes are sent to the City of Los Angeles. While staging a last stand there, they join forces with Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez), a feisty Air Force sergeant on a reconnaissance detail.
Despite the film’s futuristic pretensions, Battle: L.A. is basically an old-fashioned war flick which unabashedly employs every cliché associated with the shopworn genre. For instance, the fate of apprehensive Lieutenant Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is sealed, cinematically, the moment he sits down to write an ominous letter to his pregnant wife back home. Yet, the squad leader’s untimely demise does dovetail ever so conveniently with his replacement’s need for a shot at redemption. Like a kid operating a computer game joystick, Nantz proceeds to spearhead a strategic search and destroy mission for the aliens’ command and control center.
The frenetic action consists of wave after wave of mindless mayhem intermittently interrupted by sentimental reminders that God is on our side and by simplistic sloganeering such as “Marines don’t quit!” and “Let’s go show ‘em how Marines fight!” With no message deeper to impart, some might suggest that the film amounts to little more than a two-hour PSA for the U.S. military.
On the other hand, the less cynical are just as likely to rally behind the defenders of Mom and apple pie, and to cheer their every kill with approving howls of “Hoo-rah!” (Marine shorthand for “Heard, understood, recognized and acknowledged.”) After all, you don’t have to be tiger-blooded Charlie Sheen to know what really matters most in a showdown with any worthy adversary.