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Movie review: 'Battle: Los Angeles'

Explosions and Aaron Eckhart star in the alien invasion film directed by Jonathan Liebesman.

March 11, 2011|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • [A Marine platoon faces off against an alien invasion in "Battle: Los Angeles."
[A Marine platoon faces off against an alien invasion in "Battle:… (Columbia TriStar )

Before we begin, a moment of silence please for all the brick and mortar that made the ultimate sacrifice for "Battle: Los Angeles." Sob. Let me just grab a tissue. Sorry.

Let us not forget the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air either. The pyrotechnics are patriotic, sizable, and clearly the star of "Battle: Los Angeles," so don't let the tight shots of Aaron Eckhart's chiseled jaw and cleft chin fool you.

The movie, directed by Jonathan Liebesman, is very much in the tradition of those old World War II films you find on late-night cable with rickety fighter planes engaged in long skirmishes that you can't follow all that well except you know a few good men are trying to save the day. But with less story and instead of Germans or Japanese for hostiles, we get hordes of vengeful aliens, their monstrous UFOs choking the L.A. skies like rush hour on the 405.

Chris Bertolini's script is totally predictable from the first few moments when Eckhart's Marine staff sergeant signs his discharge papers only to have them put on hold. It's not really about acting either, though Eckhart does his best to play the hero, lead his little band of brothers (and a sister), save some civilians, including kids in case the stakes weren't high enough, while delivering stagy lines in a teeth-clenching growl: "Retreat? Hell. We just got here."

Nope, "Battle: Los Angeles" is all about the boom-boom as Santa Monica by way of Baton Rouge, La., where the movie was actually shot, is reduced to rubble. But, as the title suggests, L.A. is on the firing line, so the city's skyline is blown to bits. Burning, broken, blackened bits. So if that's what you're in the mood for, that is what the film delivers, endlessly, but in that cheesy-campy way that can make a bad movie good fun.

Over time, South African director Liebesman's blood lust has progressed, from 2006's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" through "The Killing Room" in 2009. With "Battle," he's into spilling it less and always in a patriotic fervor, with help from an orchestral Boston Pops on the Fourth of July-styled score from Brian Tyler. Hoo-rah.

But honestly, the movie, such as it is, belongs as much to visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell as anyone due to the aforementioned burning, blackened bits and those intergalactic intruders.

Let me back up for a minute. The story opens with an unknown military force and its complicated-looking flying battleships strafing most of the big cities around the world for unknown reasons. It turns out they are aliens in search of water. But before we know what or who, the U.S. military is mobilized, civilians are evacuated, and the battles begin.

The alien forces, for that's what all the hoo-ha is all about, are a wild bunch. They come roaring in, in their big black 'Transformers'-like machines, wrecking mayhem. Yet on the ground they look silvery and slim, kind of stylish, prissing their way through all the mess they've made as though they don't want to get their silver shoes dirty.

On the inside, it's another matter. They are absolutely disgusting blobs of really gross stuff. Staff Sergeant (because that's all they call Eckhart) stabs one for about 10 minutes before letting a civilian, a veterinarian played by Bridget Moynahan, dig around in the gooey guts, so that they can find and destroy whatever passes for an alien heart. (Other key players include Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Ne-Yo and Michael Peña).

All of this unfolds in either headache-inducing shaky camera close-ups or long shots of explosions. Director of photography Lukas Ettlin was the one in charge of trying to shoot everything from the Marines' point of view, thus the shake, rattle and roll of battle extends to everyone watching.

The long shots are better and for a while it can be fun to watch things get blown up and burned. But at some point as another one bites the dust, you realize it doesn't matter much whether it's one of theirs or ours and you can't help but wish there had been a lot more heart in this Marine's story.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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