Release Date: May 18, 2012 Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 131 minutes
t’s one thing to build a film franchise around a toy line like the Transformers. But a board game? That’s what makes Battleship the smartest dumb idea any Hollywood studio has had in years. There’s simply no reason for director Peter Berg’s $200 million Battleship film adaptation to succeed. He’s working with a character-less board game that requires more guessing on the part of the competing players than a genuine knowledge of naval strategy. By going the alien-invasion route, Berg’s somehow manufactured a fun popcorn movie that’s more entertaining that any one of Michael Bay’s bombastic Transformers epics. Please me clear: Battleship isn’t great filmmaking. The first 30 minutes are insufferably to sit through as Berg introduces us to Battleship’s cookie-cutter hero, a reckless loner who is colorlessly played by his Friday Night Lights TV series star Taylor Kitsch. Kitsch’sfound a home in the U.S. Navy, but he’s about to be thrown out for fighting with a Japanese naval officer (Tadanobu Asano). It doesn’t help that the fleet’s admiral (Liam Neeson, who’s strictly on a Hawaiian vacation) hates Kitsch for not just wasting his potential but for dating his daughter Samantha (Brooklyn Decker). Luckily for Kitsch, he has a chance to prove his doubters wrong when he inexplicably leads the charge against an alien force that crashes into the Pacific Ocean during naval exercise off the coast of Hawaii. Once humanity engages the enemy, the mayhem begins and continues in fast and furious fashion, with Berg borrowing heavily from Bay’s playbook in his bid to cause as much global destruction as possible. While Battleship’s extraterrestrial antagonists are humanoid in form, their crafts look and change just like Transformers. Probably not a coincidence considering Hasbro owns both properties. There are times when Battleship gets downright silly or defies logic. For example, when the battle moves to the land, we’re supposed to buy that the only people who can prevent a full-scale alien invasion are Decker’s physical therapist, Gregory D. Gadson’s army combat veteran who walks on two artificial legs, and Hamish Linklater’s scared-stiff scientist, who’s armed only with a metal suitcase. Roll with all this nonsense and it’s easy to accept Battleship on its own terms. Berg also imbues Battleship with a rousing patriotic streak that finds him paying tribute to the nation’s naval veterans from start to finish. To offset this, though, Battleship cannily pairs Kitsch with his Japanese rival so that Berg can acknowledge how far the two nations have come since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Oh, and Battleship does an OK job integrating some of the board game’s elements into the film, such as the use of electronic pegs and grids during one tense showdown with the aliens that requires our heroes to guess the location of enemy ships. Let’s face it: Battleship is just trading on the name of the celebrated board game. Even so, Berg does a better than capturing the spirit of Battleship than most of the films that are based on videogames. Now let’s see what Ridley Scott can do if he ever gets around to making his proposed Monopoly.