To live and die in L.A.
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, March 11, 2011
A cross between "The War of the Worlds" and a Marine recruiting film, "Battle: Los Angeles" sends a bunch of earnest leathernecks into the most hostile territory they've ever experienced: Santa Monica.
Twenty major cities around the world have been attacked by metal-sheathed extraterrestrials, yet this shoot'em-up focuses on only one steaming slice of L.A. County. While the movie occasionally pulls back for a wider view, it emphasizes the effects of the intergalactic brawl on a lone Marine patrol, led by no-nonsense Staff Sgt. Mike Nantz (chasm-chinned Aaron Eckhart).
The repetitive point-and-shoot story line suggests an M-rated video game, but the movie's pounding symphonic score and irony-free outlook are closer to World War II B-movies. So are its lack of humor and embrace of cliche. Nantz, for example, is tormented by memories of the men he lost in Iraq and has just received his discharge papers when the brutal ETs attack.
Did somebody mention Iraq? "Battle's" depiction of block-by-block urban combat against an implacable, enigmatic foe evokes Baghdad at its bloodiest. But director Jonathan Liebesman (whose background is in horror flicks) isn't interested in allegory, nuance or social comment. He just wants to line up platinum-plated space-squids to be blown away.
Pressed back into service, Nantz will inevitably prove himself to his mistrustful troops with his valor and ingenuity. At one point, he even rappels out of a chopper with the intention of single-handedly defeating the most destructive alien force
to assault Earth since, well, "Skyline.''
Nantz and his boys - and a female straggler, Air Force non-com Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez) - escort civilians out of the battle zone. The troops suffer heavy casualties, but don't worry about the children the troops rescued. This close to Hollywood, nobody's going to let any kids die. Instead, Nantz declares one boy, Hector, an honorary member of the patrol, informing him solemnly that "Marines don't quit." If "Battle'' rates a sequel, expect to see Hector a few years older and
in a Marine uniform.
As in "The War of the Worlds," the story turns on the secret vulnerability of the alien scourges. These invaders are so powerful that you may wonder why they bother to engage in street fighting with puny humans. But they must have a weakness.
H.G. Wells did it better. This movie spends so much yawn-inducing time on variations of the same combat scenario that its final showdown feels rushed. That's why "Battle: Los Angeles" would have worked better as a video game. Viewers who adore the bang-bang could have sustained it for weeks. And the rest of us could have looked up the cheat codes and jumped straight to the anticlimactic ending.
Contains intense war violence and destruction and profanity.