Amidst a sea of fallen comrades, facing almost certain death at the hands of an incomprehensible foe, Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) gets inches from the face of Cpl. Jason Lockett (Cory Hardrict) and begins to bellow a five-minute rant without missing a single military cliché. Seemingly exhausted by covering every base from “good men died out there” to “Marines don’t quit,” Nantz pauses, looks right at the camera and says “But none of that matters.” Probably not the best thing to say after the most significant, albeit ridiculous, dialogue spoken in an entire movie. But at least he was honest.
Battle: Los Angeles is a lumbering beast. It is a juggernaut with the brains of a glue-sniffer, a mongoloid mash-up of every conceivable cinematic military trope with the added wrinkle of an alien invasion. Also, it’s kind of awesome … so long as nobody’s talking or acting.
This is not a joke or hyperbole: Had writer Christopher Bertolini eliminated all but the incidental dialogue (as in “Get down” or “We have to go to that place over there to do that thing”), this would have been a near-perfect film. Alas, we are treated to such rich characters as “the one with the pregnant wife,” “the one who is getting married,” “the virgin,” “the old guy who has had enough of this shit,” “the one whose last mission went bad” and, of course, “the girl.” It’s enough to make one yearn for the wacky chutzpah of Starship Troopers .
Tantalizingly beginning in the middle of combat before pulling back to set up characters whose names we will never bother to learn, Battle: Los Angeles ’ plot is Netflix blurb paradise. Aliens fall out of the sky and blow stuff up. The military shoots at them and hopes for the best. Seriously, there is no nuance here, as the plot moves from “run over here” to “run over there” before settling on “now blow up that thing.”
And it mostly works! Honest. Hoo-rahs are due to director Jonathan Liebesman, who delivers the most riveting and explosive action set pieces in years. Relentless in nature and epic in scope, the eyes could not want for more. The ears and rapidly atrophying brain, on the other hand …
It’s not just that the acting is wretched — Eckhart seems to have caught Christian Bale’s head-cold voice from The Dark Knight, and Michelle Rodriguez has used her lifetime allotment of grimaces; and it’s not just that the dialogue is putrid. It’s that there’s no rational thought here. Why are extraterrestrials only here for our resources (specifically water) using bullets and not city-razing bombs? Why are the aliens designed like inside-out squids and yet wear humanoid exoskeletons? Why does every intergalactic conquering species have one giant gaping vulnerability (cough, Death Star, cough)?
Battle: Los Angeles has no zombie movie-esque social commentary or sly military critique. It has no emotional resonance, no creative core, no brains at all. It’s stupid, stupid, stupid.
And also pretty awesome.
Grade – B-