Thirst Unquenched

'Battle: Los Angeles' shows off lame aliens, terrible dialogue and boring sets

Battle: Los Angeles is an alien-invasion movie that's about as interesting as a game of Battleship between two pensive eighth-graders playing for the first time.

Featuring an alien species that looks like giant carpenter ants and a lead performance hammier than a hog farm, the movie is nothing more than a big cinematic cheat.

The film follows a group of Marines as they face an invasion from unknown (and largely unseen) aliens. Director Jonathan Liebesman utilizes the shaky-camera trick, making it hard for viewers to get a beat on what exactly is attacking the Marines.

Sure, this creates a sense of dread early on, but when we finally see the beasties, they are some of the most undistinguished, boring aliens that Hollywood has offered up since Cocoon: The Return.

Chief among the Marines is Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz, played by Aaron Eckhart. Nantz has recently returned from a tour of duty during which men died under his command, and he figures his combat days are over. When the aliens start traipsing down Hollywood Boulevard, his commander tells him he's coming out of retirement. He's put in a new platoon with a much-younger leader. Of course, the younger guy often semi-panics, and the experienced guy talks sense into him.

The occasional long shot tells us that the movie is, in fact, taking place in Los Angeles, but you wouldn't know that from most of the locales. The Marines fight in smoke-filled streets, abandoned police stations and suburban backyards. They might as well be in Wichita.

Man, if you are going to have aliens attack Southern California, have the Marines facing off against aliens in Disneyland or someplace like that. I know the cost to use Disneyland would be astronomical, but aliens shooting lasers at some poor slob hiding out in Space Mountain would be badass. Instead, we get Marines hiding out in apartment-complex laundry rooms.

Of course, the ragtag group of troops includes Michelle Rodriguez. You can't have a militaristic adventure these days without Rodriguez in the crew doing that cute little smirk face.

So why are the aliens invading us? It seems that they want our water. They can master technology to annihilate planets via massive flying vehicles and super-powered weaponry, but they haven't figured out how to combine oxygen and hydrogen. These aliens are the opposite of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs aliens, who were defeated due to their allergy to water (making them the biggest wusses in the universe). This film's aliens have water for blood and generally love the stuff.

In one of the film's sillier sequences, Nantz grabs a wounded alien and drags it into a dark room (meaning we still can't see what the dang thing looks like). He and his cronies decide to do a living autopsy on it, basically taking it apart in an effort to find its vulnerable spot. (They get help from Bridget Moynahan, who declares herself an expert in the dissection of aliens because she is a veterinarian.)

Of course, the vulnerable spot is near the heart! After discovering this, the Marines don't do much to capitalize on it. They just blow the aliens up with grenades or shower them with so much gunfire that they basically disintegrate. So the whole living-alien autopsy just amounts to unbearable cruelty to extraterrestrials.

When the film does manage a few sustainable moments of dread or exciting action, it's usually punctuated by dialogue so bad that the stench will burn your nose hairs. The normally reliable Eckhart is saddled with speeches so terrible that they will make you question whether this guy can really act. You have to keep reminding yourself that this guy was great as Two-Face, and the script by Christopher Bertolini is probably to blame.

Liebesman is clearly going for a documentary feel, basically making the viewer an observer along for the ride. This whole technique draws comparison to the far-superior Cloverfield, which mixed claustrophobic scares with cool partial views of an interesting monster. Cloverfield had the shaky cam, too; while I am OK with a movie using the shaky cam, Liebesman seems to be using it to mask the fact that his movie just doesn't look all that good, and his ability to put a comprehensible action set piece together is suspect.

I'm tired of alien-invasion movies that follow the same template: "Man, these things are indestructible, and we are going to lose!" eventually drifts into, "Oh, wait, maybe these things aren't that unbeatable after all!" Again, Cloverfield was superior in that it left the results of the invasion open-ended.

Unlike Battle: Los Angeles, it had balls.

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