Loud, inane and noisy doesn’t necessarily mean obnoxious – unless you happen to be Jamie Foxx on a talk show. Battle: Los Angeles toes a fine line and at the very least avoids being a complete waste of its several million dollar budget, and more importantly your time.
The obvious thing to say about the film is that it is true to label, after a few minutes of identifying the characters that will be yelling unintelligibly and dying randomly for the next two hours a series of meteors hit earth full of naughty aliens that within minutes hit the shores of several major cities across the globe with less than friendly intent.
Apparently that means Los Angeles represents a key target to these invaders, which causes me to ask why; is it the oranges? The Hollywood starlets? The wines? The Tacos? The Playboy mansion? Or maybe they just picked up Charlie Sheen’s mental frequency in recent weeks…
They make no demands but get right to it. The only request from this point seems to be a ban on subtlety in cinema.
The troops are immediately mobilised and given tasks along the Santa Monica shores. Within minutes most of the carefully laid plans – not to mention dozens upon dozens of multicultural soldiers – are shredded and laid to waste.
With a artillery bombardment looming Staff Sergeant (Aaron Eckhart) and his few remaining men must find a way inland and away from the strike zone. Along the way they pick up a soldier played by Michelle Rodriguez and some civilians that include a few young kids as they try to move along the Los Angeles freeways that are dangerous enough even without hordes of bloodthirsty aliens.
But what about the alien invaders you say? Well up close they look like slimmed down versions of Master Chief from Halo, and from afar though they look like wavy squid creatures. It’s actually a little alarming and the CGI work seems a little slap dash to be honest.
From here it is the usual outgunned forces versus a powerful and well-prepared opponent battle scenario that demands the following cliches:
– Everything is filmed in such a shaky style that you can hardly tell which way is up – but the explosions are all filmed centrescreen to preserve their glory.
– The first alien is practically invincible to take down (to prove just what stiff odds the good guys are up against), once they go down the rest fall like skittles. In this film the first alien takes no less than 200 rounds and still gets up, only a grenade finishes him, moments later Sergeant tells them to aim elsewhere to where they might think the heart should be… You mean that guy aimed 200 bullets carefully at the wrong spot? They sure seemed like random strafing to me.
– A non-human autopsy is always helpful in identifying weak points and how to take them down – Blade 2 had a great gooey example – here though it only makes you wonder why the jelly monsters don’t get hurt by bullets.
– Women will apparently still flirt with tough soldiers in lulls in the action. Geez let them keep their minds on the job honey!
– The Sergeant in the platoon is always tougher, calmer and smarter than the Lieutenant who will nonetheless continue to remind him who is boss.
– There must be at least one ‘rally the troops’ speech. Here it is delivered by Eckhart, and I must say for the only lengthy piece of dialogue he delivers it well.
– The usual causes of death apply – telling your buddies about your impending marriage is a bad sign; any expressions of victory and jubilation will be short lived, and where kids are involved at least one must take a hit for them. The best way to stay alive is to grit your teeth, square your jaw and obey orders, but that doesn’t get you much screen time.
– A mortally wounded guy can always find an explosive at the right time to go out in style.
But my favourite moment was less a cliche – but from now on I demand that it should be. The alien forces manage to keep pinpointing the locations of the human forces. Sergeant eventually twigs that they are honing in on electronic signals, ‘radios and cellphones’ to be exact. Problem solved right? Ummmm, didn’t anyone mention that they are in suburban LA? Where 7 year old kids have cellphones and many people have two and an ipod and probably a Nintendo DS! Pretty sure they wouldn’t have managed to extract every single one but the ones the soldiers were carrying before they evacuated.
As the Sergeant and stragglers move slowly through dangerous ground towards the safe zone they keep up to speed – and so do we as viewers – through TVs in the background. For the most part it seems that the power everywhere is out, yet somehow that doesn’t stop them from finding a working TV every five minutes or so. In fact with all the updates coming through I was surprised not to see hundreds of reporters wandering casually through firefights.
Eckhart tries hard as the Sergeant, Rodriguez is the pursed lipped second billed banana and the rest of the faceless extras manage to avoid the smirks that must bubble to the surface when the director points to a dangling tennis ball and says “the alien’s head will be here”.
Battle: Los Angeles followed the meathead action playbook to the letter. The reason people continue with action cliches is the same reason people follow traditional recipes: when done well they work. I’m not suggesting the film is high art but as a straightforward action drama it is OK, the final moments found me unwillingly getting involved even though it was always coming.
And any alien force thinking of taking down Earth ought to watch a few of these films, there is always one major weakness that we manage to find that once uncovered ultimately brings them down in 5 minutes flat.
They find that and cover it up and we’re screwed.
Final rating – 6 / 10. The usual underdog vs vicious invader stuff. In the first half they can’t miss, in the second we can’t miss (whoops I accidentally showed my bias). Go Earth!
Final Note – After I originally scheduled this I had a squiz at Roger Ebert’s review and saw that he had absolutely panned it with ½ star – by my system that would be a 1. He suggested any guy that liked it was an idiot and should be told as much by his male mates and dumped by any females.
I generally like Roger and agree with him most of the time but I am happy enough to disagree here. I acknowledge Battle: Los Angeles isn’t that crash hot but I’d favour it over many other films of late followed by Roger’s ratings: Drive Angry **, Season of the Witch **, Hall Pass ** ½, Paul ** ½. Not saying Battle: LA is way better than any but I am saying it isn’t any worse.
The noise might be a little much for you Roger and that’s fine – but imploring people to cast aspersions over the intelligence of their friends because they like a popcorn movie might be pushing you up to your tip-toes on your well-earned soapbox.
While I appreciate your guidance and insight over the years I think I’ll continue to think for myself – even though I may be wrong.