Nobody could believe it when it was announced that a major blockbuster movie was being developed from the game “Battleship”. The plot would see a bunch of people on a naval exercise at sea end up in a battle against some dangerous alien craft and there would be a number of impressive explosions. The fact that, when it did get released, Battleship ended up sinking at the box office was more than a little ironic.
Strangely enough, Battleship isn’t THAT bad. Oh, it’s bad and there are times when it’s very, very bad, but there are enough moments here and there to help it maintain a decidedly average final score.
The plot is exactly as I just surmised it above. Taylor Kitsch plays the young, hot-headed seaman who ends up in thick of the intergalactic battle when an alien enemy lands in the sea, creates a force-field dome/”gaming area” and proceeds to exchange missiles with the navy destroyers near them. Kitsch is helped in the battle by Rihanna (good grief, yes THAT Rihanna), Tadanobu Asano, John Tui and Jesse Plemons, among others. Meanwhile, his lovely lady (Brooklyn Decker) is doing her bit to help with assistance from Gregory D. Gadson, a bilateral amputee serving officer playing an ex-army man who is struggling to adjust to his new set of legs. And then there’s Liam Neeson, trying to monitor the situation from the outside of the force-field.
The first half of this movie surprised me. Not in terms of what was onscreen, but in terms of how enjoyable I found it all. A very amusing opening sequence shows just how much trouble Taylor Kitsch’s character can get himself into, much to the chagrin of his brother (played by Alexander Skarsgard). Even when the alien ships first appeared and started firing missiles that looked like pegs from the board-game when they made contact I was having a good time. “Everyone was wrong about this one,” I thought, “just as they were wrong about John Carter.” Some more destruction on a big scale kept me happy and I was keen to see what would happen in the second half en route to the big finale.
That’s when it all started to crumble. Elements of the game get shoehorned into the movie in a way that moves from the sly fun of those missile pegs to just outright stupidity and then one scene of horrible jingoism follows another, interspersed by uninteresting action sequences. Think of the very end of Armageddon and then repeat it about half a dozen times – that’s how bad this is.
The sad part is that I like many of the people involved, both in front of the camera and behind it. As already mentioned, I am one of the few people who also enjoyed John Carter and I think Taylor Kitsch is okay as a leading man. He does okay here, despite being saddled with very weak material, courtesy of the script by Jon and Erich Hoeber. Alexander Skarsgard doesn’t get much time onscreen, which is a shame because he’s another actor I really like. Brooklyn Decker is easy to like, as are Tadanobu Asano, John Tui and Jesse Plemons. Unfortunately, the movie gives too much time to Rihanna and Gregory D. Gadson, with the former being easy to dislike and the latter stuck with many of those horribly jingoistic moments. When Rihanna gets more screen-time than Liam Neeson then the problems with the movie start to become clear.
Director Peter Berg has made some good films in the past decade (hell, I even really liked Very Bad Things, which was his feature directorial debut back in 1998). This is one huge mis-step and I hope he walks away from the big mess, regroups and then comes back with something less painful and more entertaining.
The biggest problem here is the script, a script that, to be fair, had to include elements from a board-game. It’s no surprise that the end result was far from great. The surprising part is that the movie isn’t actually as bad as many have said. A few of the set-pieces work really well, there’s a lively soundtrack and Kitsch is likable. It could have been even more enjoyable if only it had toned down the unrelenting bravura nonsense so brilliantly mocked in Team America: World Police (that film may be almost a decade old now, but the comedy in it is as spot on as ever).
If you really must watch a movie based on a board-game then return to good old Clue.
DIRECTOR: PETER BERG
WRITER: JON HOEBER, ERICH HOEBER
STARS: TAYLOR KITSCH, ALEXANDER SKARSGARD, RIHANNA, BROOKLYN DECKER, TADANOBU ASANO, JOHN TUI, JESSE PLEMONS, GREGORY D. GADSON, HAMISH LINKLATER, LIAM NEESON, PETER MACNICOL
RUNTIME: 131 MINS APPROX