Well, it sure ain't <i>Dialogue Los Angeles</i> or <i>Character Development Los Angeles</i> ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Well, it sure ain't Dialogue Los Angeles or Character Development Los Angeles

World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles
My rating:

Parallel development strikes again! Just four months after the last alien invasion movie, we get another one. I hesitate to call this a trend, since with only two films it could just be a coincidence (unless you count outliers like District 9 and Monsters - a U.K.-produced indie that sadly never made it to our screens). (Although there is Cowboys & Aliens coming out later this year...) Pundits may speculate on what it is about the cultural zeitgeist that is giving rise to all these movies with evil extraterrestrials, but I don't think there's anything worth thinking about there yet. Skyline aimed to be nothing more than a dumb-as-rocks fun thrill ride with aliens, and Battle: Los Angeles (it's original title) looks to be just as profound and meaningful. Just look at that title. Seriously, it's a ridiculously unimaginative title.

And it's a ridiculously unimaginative movie. But at least it's decent fun.

Just days before U.S Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is due to retire, several meteorites crash off the coast of the world's major cities. They are in fact heralds of an alien invasion, spearheaded by ground troops who kill every human being in their path. Nantz is recalled into a platoon led by Lt. William Martinez (Ramón Rodríguez), and tasked with evacuating citizens from a Los Angeles police station. Later joined by Air Force Tech Sergeant Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez), the marines will have to fight a running urban battle with the alien forces, find a group of civilians comprising two adults (Bridget Moynahan, Michael Peña) and three children, and get to safety before an Air Force bombing run levels the entire city. But Nantz will also have to live down a personal shame - several members of his former platoon were killed in action in Iraq. And the brother of one of them is now under his command.

This movie runs 116 minutes, but I reckon a good 90 of them are made up of constant action scenes. It's been described as "Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day", and watching it proves it was also conceived as just that. And the action scenes are pretty good. I was worried about the shaky-cam, which director Jonathan Liebesman employs even in the opening pre-invasion scenes of the marines on an ordinary, non-alien-battling day; but when the bullets (or whatever the aliens use) start flying, it didn't bother me. And considering how much time it spends on the battle scenes, it's a damn good thing that there's plot to all of them. It's not just a mindless cacophony of explosions (*coughMichaelBaycough*); the heroes' objectives and the threats they face were always clear, and I could always make out what was going on. (I feel sorry for Roger Ebert who couldn't.)

However, everything other than the action scenes were pretty much fail. The dialogue is terrible, the characters are blank slates, and the "emotional" moments are tired old clichés. Guess what, the Lt. is fresh out of officer training, whereas his sergeant is a grizzled old veteran! Oh em gee, I wonder how they'll fare in combat? Also, one character has a pregnant wife, and writes a letter to her after he finds out he's going into battle. It's oh so suspenseful wondering if he'll get to see her again! A scary noise turns out to be a dog, so of course there weren't really aliens behind that fog, oh no. And when some of the wounded marines are being airlifted away, surely they won't suddenly get shot out of the sky, riiiight? To be honest, even stuff like this could work if Liebesman and his screenwriter Chris Bertolini weren't so po-faced about it, as if they're unaware - or think us unaware - of how hackneyed it all is.

And they certainly didn't develop the characters enough to make it work; I didn't even bother mentioning the names of the rest of the platoon in my synopsis, because none of them have any personalities to speak of. Among the civilians they rescue are two little girls, and it's telling that we never even learn their names (In fact, Liebesman keeps cutting to teary close-ups of the younger and cuter one, and completely ignores her older sister.) People die, and the film wants you to think it's sad and tragic when it's just dull. There's a long bit in the midsection in which Nantz's subplot is dealt with, and it's supremely corny and slow. Did no one in Hollywood learn the lessons of Aliens, in which a similar troop of jarheads were given brief but effective characterizations that made it all the more effective when they started dropping like flies? This movie does all that wrong where James Cameron's sci-fi classic went right.

Also, it's dumb. Not just its dialogue, which even in basic tough-guys-trading-quips form is sorely lacking in any real wit, but also its science fiction aspects. At one point, we are presented with the hypothesis that the aliens are invading us for water, because it is so rare and precious in its liquid form. Quick science lesson: there's plenty of water right here in our solar system, albeit in frozen form, which you can convert into liquid by melting it, durr. There are bits in which the aliens seem blind as bats, letting the marines sneak by right under their noses unmolested, because apparently it wasn't quite time yet for another action scene. And finally, there's just no getting past this: it makes no goddamn sense for an extraterrestrial force bent on exterminating the local populace not to employ orbital bombardment. These morons achieved interstellar travel before we did??

Wow, that's a lot of carping for a 3-star movie. I did say the action scenes are fun, and that there are a lot of 'em. And Aaron Eckhart continues to be one of the most underrated leading men in Hollywood (but even he doesn't know what to do with that "I'm sorry your brother died" scene). But that alone is a pretty low standard to hold a movie to, even an action movie. I don't adhere to the "who needs plot and character in a movie like this?" school of thought; character development, dialogue, and basic respect for the audience's intelligence are the basis of all movies. And damn right an action movie can have those things, just look at the acknowledged classics of the genre like Die Hard, Terminator 2 and yeah, Aliens. World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles shouldn't get a pass for skimping on them, just because it delivered on the thrills.

NEXT REVIEW: Sucker Punch
Expectations: not much, frankly


profwacko said...

after reading ur review, i kinda think this movie was definitely dumb. The military, nasa, goverment or media has already warn of the meteors attack, and japan was indeed attacked 1st 24hour b4. How come the people of USA didnt know about it. Some thousands still hangs out at the beach to see the meteor. Lol.

Anyway, i still enjoy watching this movie but it still cant compete with District 9.