In some Hollywood pitch meeting, someone said “alien invasion” and “based on a popular board game” at the same time, and a green light went on faster than an exploding robot.
“Battleship” was born.
Alien invasion movies usually work based on three things: strong characters, cool aliens and a good idea. “Battleship” has boring characters, boring aliens and a couple of minor ideas stupid enough to elicit a temporary smile.
The movie begins with the hero, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a lovable, scruffy loser who accidentally wreaks havoc while trying to impress a girl (Brooklyn Decker). Later, when he joins the Navy and becomes a lieutenant, he’s not so scruffy or lovable.
The girl turns out to be the daughter of an admiral (Liam Neeson). After Alex fails to ask the admiral for permission to marry her, the aliens attack.
They look pretty much like giant Transformers with Power Rangers stocked inside. The aliens’ ships and armor contain sensors that show whether something in their path is violent: Green means safe, and red means violent. If it’s red, they blow it up.
Meanwhile, we get scenes of the girlfriend, a scientist (Hamish Linklater), and a wounded army vet with prosthetic legs (Gregory D. Gadson, who, in a tip of the hat to “The Best Years of Our Lives,” is the real thing), trying to sabotage the aliens’ communications.
We also get the obligatory scenes with the secretary of defense and a bunch of other guys sitting around a big table.
The first stupid idea is how the movie fits in the “Battleship” board game motif: Immune to radar, surviving sailors figure out a way to track opponents using water displacement, electronic buoys and a computer grid. The scene only lasts a few minutes, but it’s fun.
Then, when all the destroyers are sunk, the crew is forced to bring out a 70-year-old battleship, complete with its crew, a team of aging Korean War veterans who know how to run it (shades of “Space Cowboys”). These old guys have no names or real character, but they do get to swear from time to time, which is supposed to be cute.
Making up the rest of the movie are visual effects, explosions and pop star Rihanna, who gets to be sassy in her acting debut.
Director Peter Berg (“The Kingdom,” “Hancock”) doesn’t so much direct as copy old ideas and throw money at them.
If this is entertainment, we’re sunk.