Don't mean to boast, but I can suspend my disbelief as willingly as any credulous moviegoer. Yet not even an industrial crane would have helped here. Nope, Battle: Los Angeles completely defeated me.
Through every unlikely second of its nearly two-hour running time, that poor old disbelief of mine remained deeply entrenched, and I confess to feeling a certain shame in not being able to get it up. Of course, as always in such cases, I'm eager to lay the blame elsewhere and to point out the obvious: Hey, this flick isn't so much a feature film as a recruiting poster for the U.S. Marine Corps. But is that a defence or just an excuse? Either way, I clearly wasn't man enough.
I can't claim to have been deterred by any excessive novelty. The sci-fi premise is your stock War of the Worlds stuff. You know the drill: That supposed meteor shower is actually a total invasion of the earth by colonizing aliens. Indeed, right off the hop, the globe's major cities have all succumbed save for the one boldly cast in the title. "We can't lose Los Angeles," is the defiant cry, and with good reason. Those other trifling capitals - Paris, London, New York - can be done without, but not the movie capital. Otherwise, who would make jingoistic jive like this?
Flash back to 24 hours before the invasion, just long enough to introduce the plucky platoon of Marines dispatched to single-handedly rescue the planet from extraterrestrial clutches. Chief among them is Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a grizzled vet who, having acquitted himself less than nobly in Iraq, hopes for better luck with his next batch of foreigners. His helpmates can safely remain nameless, since they're really just there as either fodder for the cannon or founts for the jingoism - which, come to think of it, amounts to the same.
Anyway, our band of brothers (plus a sister or two) heads off to the mean streets under the xenophobic marching orders of every/// war: "Kill anything that isn't human." Initially, it's urban guerrilla combat against an enemy they can't see. Unfortunately, neither can we, which makes the first action sequence a rather one-sided affair. Yes, bullets are whizzing, bombs are bursting, soldiers are dying and director Jonathan Liebesman is assaulting us with the standard-issue array of cluttered close-ups. Apparently, despite these heroics, it's awfully hard to dramatize a conflict with an invisible assailant.
Happily, we soon catch our first glimpse of the bellicose ETs, but, alas, they too look standard-issue - just more of those metallic, robotic, tentacled thingies. Familiar also is their imperialistic goal: to plunder our natural resources in order to fuel their technology. Obviously, such motives are not unknown to American fighting forces, a fact that helps to explain (1) why they appear so unflappable about the aliens' presence, and (2) why a mere handful of them are required to repel the entire intergalactic force. Well, now it's making perfect sense, and I feel even worse about my limp disbelief. Apologies - my bad.
But the real battle is just beginning. All of us, actors and audience alike, are charged with the further mission of clawing our way through heavily-mined thickets of dialogue, a task (trust me) far more daunting than the piddling matter of fending off bullies from outer space. Consider this Vimy Ridge of a mouthful: "We're fighting for our lives, our families, our homes and our country." Or this Dieppe: "I'd go to hell and back for you." Or this Waterloo: "I need you to be brave for me. I need you to be my little Marine." Forget the popcorn and pass out the Purple Hearts - survivors of this verbal onslaught deserve nothing less.
But not everyone survives. Among the dead is an alien corpse, on which an eager Marine performs a quick autopsy to locate its vulnerable organs, thereby learning how best to off its buddies. Vulnerability found, he yells: "This is where we kill these things, just to the right of where the heart should be." Bonus. Not only is that good advice when taking aim at heartless aliens, it works even better with mindless movies.
Battle: Los Angeles
- Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
- Written by Christopher Bertolini
- Starring Aaron Eckhart
- Classification: 14A