By Jessica Delfanti | May 18, 2012
Director: Peter Berg
Writers: Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Brooklyn Decker, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano, Hamish Linklater, Peter MacNicol, John Tui, Jesse Plemons, Gregory D. Gadson, Jerry Ferrara
When one considers what a film adaptation of the classic guessing game Battleship might look like, images of green radar screens, monstrous steel ships, and World War II military uniforms come to mind. Director Peter Berg’s iteration pairs these expectations with some more random elements to create the desultory alien invasion action flick Battleship.
Battleship takes place in an alterna-contemporary universe where a new planet with similar atmospheric conditions to earth has been discovered. Earth’s attempts at communications elicit a less than desirable reaction: an attack by four Transformers-esque ships filled with ambiguously motivated humanoid aliens.
At the earth’s defense is a small fleet of Destroyers manned by a handful of U.S. and Japanese naval officers, including Alex Popper (Taylor Kitsch). Popper is one of those standard action film protagonists who is underestimated by his peers but manages to outperform all expectations under true duress. Kitsch is joined at sea by Rihanna, Alexander Skarsgård, Tadanobu Asano, and the ever esteemed Liam Neeson.
Together, the crews of the various ships attempt to battle the destructive alien force in a series of uninspired action scenes. In one particularly clunky sequence, writers Erich and Jon Hoeber struggle to draw a comparison to the original game by having the military aim their guns according to a booey grid. As tense as Rihanna may appear while aiming a gun to D37 or J17, a pop singer holding a toy isn’t enough to support an action movie, or even hold our interest.
In the lead role, Kitsch is all vacant expressions, delivering every line hollow and forced. His best scenes are those in the first ten minutes of the film, when he is established as a dim-witted, good looking ne’er-do-well. Kitsch’s face and physicality lend him to ignorant comedy; as soon as he assumes military stance, cuts his hair, and lowers his voice a few octaves, he becomes a much less funny kind of joke.
In addition to the wooden performances and lackluster action, there are a few bothersome political choices that further highlight the lack of thought behind the film. Namely, Battleship is set near Pearl Harbor, apparently in hopes of drawing on history to give artificial weight to the conflict. However, the filmmakers clearly didn’t want to deal with the political aspects of using such a tragic and controversial event for their purposes, and thus toss in a few token Japanese characters. What may have seemed like a clever cover up in the writer’s room here feels phony, manipulative, and racist.
There are numerous faults that could be added to the laundry list of problems with the film, but they all fall under a general umbrella: Berg has supplied the ship and forgotten to load the guns. The film is all aim, no kill shot, and with its over two hour runtime, a dragging and unsatisfying mess. If Berg accomplishes anything with this shipwreck, it’s a reminder of the unique experience while playing the game: that moment of sinking disappointment when you admit, “You sunk my Battleship.”