Mladen and Del review ‘Battle: Los Angeles’

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

“Battle: Los Angeles” Starring Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. 116 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take

Del and I exited the movie theater wondering why the flip no one in the American film industry can produce a good, original product anymore.

“Battle: Los Angeles,” a PG-13–rated sci-fi horror war film, is no exception.

A confession, first, though. I pledged some time ago to never again see a PG-13 movie. They trend toward sucking.

Then, a few weeks ago, I watched “Iron Man 2.” It was an entertaining film, so the PG-13 rating had at least temporarily redeemed itself in my eyes. But, answer one question for me. What happened to Mickey Rourke? No misunderstanding, please. Rourke did a fine job portraying a deranged, avenging Russian physicist in IM2. His appearance worried me, though. The actor’s aged body looked like it was sculpted by Donatello, but his face appeared to be the victim of a botched botox treatment.

Botoxicity might also be the cause of the shape of the heads of the aliens in “Battle for LA.” Their heads look like partially inflated pancakes suspended above elongated arms, legs, and torsos with the sheen of mercury.

“Battle,” Blair Witch Project-like, shadows a Marine squad fighting alien soldiers.

The heavily armed ETs invaded Earth to tap its substantial reserve of water in liquid state. Water is to the aliens what oil is to us, an energy source powering machinery.

“Battle” suffers many terminal flaws, among them:

– Incessant peril interrupted by spasms of unwarranted and unnecessary sentimentality or story backfill.

– Incessant violence that goes undeveloped because of PG-13’s ban on gruesome details in movies with adolescent boys as the target audience.

– An incessantly unoriginal plot, and …

– Incessant duration. “Battle” is 30 minutes too long, assuming it should have been made at all.

The film resurrected itself weakly very late into the story when two alien soldiers appeared aboard a floating gun platform that resembled something dear to my heart, the Wraith of “Halo” video game fame.

In fact, the visual and sound effects in “Battle” are the movie’s only plus.

It was clear that the water-dependent aliens cared nothing about ergonomics or aerodynamics while developing their ordnance and command, control, communication, and computer nodes. The alien arsenal looked primitive, almost gerrymandered, but offered hypersophisticated performance.

The water suckers punctured men, women, and children and toppled buildings with shrieking kinetic energy projectiles or booming chemical explosive warheads, just like mankind will do when it infests outer space. In the fight for LA, there’s no room for sissy laser guns or nukes, which would have contaminated everything.

Unfortunately, there was no room for provocative or consequential storytelling, either.

PG-13 movies are on my crap-list again. I just hope that I learned my lesson this time, once and for all.

Del’s take

Mladen, need I remind you the title of this feature is “Movie Faceoff”? How can we “face off” if we keep agreeing on everything?

To address your question about the American film industry’s inability to produce an original story I would answer: money. If you’re going to spend $70 million on a picture, the reputed budget for “Battle: Los Angeles,” you want assurances you’ll recoup that investment. In “Battle” those assurances amount to: known quantities.

I was expecting much of “Battle.” It would be the next “Dr. Zhivago,” a gritty telling of a society in transition and how the human spirit often transcends larger forces arrayed against it … ahem. Right. What I really expected was a kick-butt alien invasion movie that would hold me on the edge of my seat. For the most part “Battle” delivers on that expectation, but I’m troubled by its flaws, which are numerous and annoying.

The premise of the movie is fascinating – meteor swarms are crashing into the waters off large coastal cities to disgorge invading E.T. armies. The unfolding drama is revealed through televised news clips (though in “Battle’s” world social media don’t play much of a role … do “Battle’s” writers not tweet?). As Los Angeles retreats under the alien onslaught (a scene creepily reminiscent of tsunami footage from Japan) a squad of marines is sent to rescue a group of civilians stranded behind enemy lines.

Visual and sound effects are outstanding. The actors do their best with a script that lurches between predictability and ingenious levity (a Marine is called upon to hotwire a bus. Why him? Because he’s from New Jersey). Pacing is uneven as high-wire action scenes give way to slow, sleepy reflections on the human condition – which is not what I would be doing if alien jarheads were gunning their way into my little corner of the Starbucks fallout shelter.

The problems include what I would call logic flaws – the aliens are nearly impervious to gunfire until our band of brothers catches a live one and discovers its Achilles heel, a kind of heart that, when punctured by a bullet, sends E.T. to his great reward. Suddenly all the Marines – and even civilians – become crack shots and by movie’s end the aliens are falling to the stinkeye.

Also, this business of liquid water is pure and simple nonsense. We’ve known for years water is plentiful in the universe. Several moons in our own solar system are awash with water, both liquid and frozen. And if the aliens prefer their water in a liquid state, could they not grab a hunk of ice and … melt it? Agreed, watching ice melt is no fun. As every evil rancher knows, stealing somebody else’s water is so much more interesting. …

Which leads me to “Battle’s” greatest flaw: Its horrible cliches.

Early on as I struggled with “Battle’s” cinema verite shaky cam footage I decided I was watching “Saving Private Ryan” retold as “Black Hawk Down” with aliens. The visual storytelling technique Ridley Scott used in “Black Hawk” is duplicated here, and the story mirrors Steven Spielberg’s “Ryan” down to the climactic battle against German troops and tanks. In “Battle” we see otherworldly folk lurking on rooftops taking potshots at our squabbling squad, whose members struggle with the questionable leadership of their sergeant. C’mon, guys. “Known quantities” doesn’t mean “ripoff.”

And the ending, which I will not reveal, is just too corny for words.

“Battle: Los Angeles” would make a fine video game but as a movie it falls short in many fatal ways. If I had to rate it on a scale of A to F, I would give it a C-plus.

Save this one for Netflix streaming.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.