By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Battleship misses the boat, but not by nearly as much as it could have.
When the idea for what would turn out to be an action kidflick was first floated out there — to base a military thriller on the simplistic board game that started over 80 years ago as a Milton Bradley pen-and-pencil exercise — we braced for what seemed a surefire, three-easy-steps way to turn a board game into a big-screen bored game:
1. Contact Hasbro, the company that brought us (gulp) Transformers, for permission.
2. Leave the “art” out of artillery by focusing on the special effects and letting the acting and character development take care of itself.
3. Depend on the audience that has been demanding to see their cherished interactive game in movie form — all seven of them.
Well, while we wait for the movie versions of Tic-Tac-Toe and Hangman, let’s sit back and take in Battleship, an epic-scale military thriller that’s no great shakes, but that’s at least a tad more absorbing than the “Transformers at Sea” that we expected — although it does share that film’s curious, suffocating fascination with metallic transformation.
The springboard for the narrative of Battleship, such as it is, is the transmission of a satellite signal into space in an effort to contact intelligent life.
(Let’s pause for a moment here to mention that it’s not intelligent life in outer space that we’re worried about. If you get my drift…)
Anyway, in response and yet without warning, alien craft enter Earth’s atmosphere and a maritime invasion is on.
The alien species who have come to Earth in the form of five ships (ships, by the way, that look and act very much like Transformers) are The Regents, their mission to build a power source in the ocean, which is why they’re engaged at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands by an international naval fleet and why they employ a force field to help them have their way.
Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, Hancock) works from a screenplay by Erich and Jon Hoeber that includes decent stabs at low-key humor in the early going before abandoning that approach — once the death and destruction kicks in — and making way for action-oriented, CGI-enhanced earnestness the rest of the way that’s so explosion-heavy, the film begins to resemble a munitions plant.
Taylor Kitsch — the star of John Carter and one of the principals in Berg’s TV series, “Friday Night Lights” — plays ne’er-do-well naval officer Alex Hopper, who travels the inevitable and unconvincing path from zero to hero.
The supporting cast includes Rihanna in her feature-film acting debut as a weapons specialist; Alexander Skarsgård as Alex’s older bother, the commanding officer of the USS Sampson; Brooklyn Decker as Alex’s fiancée, a physical therapist; and Liam Neeson, stopping by for a quick cup of java as the Admiral, commander of the United States Pacific Fleet, who is not only the brothers’ superior officer, but just happens to be Alex’s father-in-law-to-be.
Not that any of this matters in a by-the-numbers thriller that runs for 131 minutes with about 31 minutes of story. It’s so underwritten that the human characters are as shallow as the special-effects extraterrestrials, and is so bereft of tension and suspense that for much of the time it seems to be just an extended recruitment ad for the Navy, which, it’s no surprise to report, lent the makers extensive cooperation.
Still, Battleship doesn’t exactly stink and therefore doesn’t exactly sink. But it doesn’t soar or score either. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” says Alex at one point.
So do we, Alex.
Which is why we’ll destroy 2 stars out of 4 for the bombastic science-fiction naval war flick Battleship, a movie that owes its existence to a GUESSING GAME.
Guess what? It’s pretty much a battle just to sit through it.