By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
It’s a paranoid actioner in a paranoid age, featuring aliens versus Marines. No, not that kind of aliens. The kind from much farther away, not the ones who are looking for jobs. These aliens are after our water.
It’s Battle Los Angeles, an alien-invasion thriller about a UFO sighting that turns out to be real and leads to a plundering of the coastlines of the earth’s major cities as they fall one by one. We get to watch Los Angeles make a last stand.
The story was inspired by what’s known as The Battle of Los Angeles or The Great Los Angeles Air Raid, a falsely suspected air raid of LA that occurred — or didn’t occur — during World War II.
If the subject matter sounds familiar, that’s because it was comedically addressed in Steve Spielberg’s 1941, in 1979.
When the movie begins, the invasion has already begun. Before long, Eckhart and the rest of the platoon are dropped behind enemy lines, in a ruined Los Angeles patrolled by the heavily armed extraterrestrial invaders, to rescue a group of humans before the neighborhood — Santa Monica — is leveled by our military.
Director Jonathan Liebesman (whose underwhelming résumé includes The Killing Room, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, and Darkness Falls), raises his game a notch or two, working from a wading-pool-shallow screenplay by Christopher Bertolini, whose lack of interest in character delineation is not especially problematic given the genre.
But scenarist Bertolini does take the time to offer moments of reflection, even as director Liebesman attempts the manner of a documentary-like war flick, hoping to give the chaos of combat a visceral kick with claustrophobic settings, shaky handheld camerawork (that will have some viewers reaching for the Dramamine), and (mostly) computer-generated aliens.
Limited perspective is the name of his game, both in terms of the audience seeing only what transpires in Los Angeles even though similar battles are being fought in countries all over the world; and in terms of our inability to see the aliens very clearly, at least in the early going, something the on-screen soldiers are also struggling with as we share their grunt’s-eye-view.
Ultimately, it’s the combat, the explosions, and the special effects that are carefully sculpted, while the characters, human and alien, are mostly treated like interchangeable props.
This is a one-dimensional film, the plain and simple mounting of a military offensive (well, no, defensive) with minimal concern for character or theme or nuance. The problem is that, when intense combat footage is extended for a considerable time without interruption, there can be a numbing effect. Imagine, for example, if the style of the spectacular opening sequence in Spielberg’s masterpiece, Saving Private Ryan, was maintained for several hours.
Battle Los Angeles (titled World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles outside the US) flirts with that propensity, but stops just short of it.
Each time it seems that Battle Los Angeles might devolve into a glorified video game, director Liebesman interrupts the combat action with a quiet, emotional exchange that, good or bad, gets the film back on track and us back in its corner. As does Eckhart, the remarkably reliable yet strangely undervalued leading man who gives yet another strongly authentic performance in a film that does not exactly showcase sensitive acting.
So we’ll attack 2½ stars out of 4 for Battle Los Angeles, a rugged sci-fi action flick that also serves as a love letter to the Marines, highlighting their resolve and resourcefulness, and nearly turning the film into a two-hour recruiting poster. Not, as they say, that there’s anything wrong with that.