The jovial and innocuous "Battleship" takes aim at its target audience and fires away, delivering volley after volley of impressive special effects, snicker-worthy dialogue, goofball humor and -- best of all -- aliens vs. the Navy showdowns at sea.
Does the big-budget behemoth hit the bull's-eye? No. It borrows much too heavily from other films, especially "Transformers," and its first 20 minutes drag as it details the boneheaded antics of boy-man protagonist Alex Hooper (Taylor Kitsch of "Friday Night Lights") before he lands a gig in the Navy.
But once those Transfomer-like alien ships divebomb into waters off Hawaii, who really cares? At that point, "Battleship" cranks it up and becomes a cinematic junk-food extravaganza that's better than it has any right to be.
Sure, it pales in comparison to the much smarter "The Avengers," but in summer, a wide berth can be given for glossy eye candy like "Battleship." As a bonus, there's no 3-D -- a nod, perhaps, to the low-tech source material that inspired the film -- the Hasbro board game.
While the absence of eyewear is a welcome reprieve, what makes this big-budget vehicle mostly see-worthy is that no one in its crew takes it seriously. That loose touch is reflected in the go-for-broke direction by Peter Berg ("The Kingdom" and the "Friday Night Lights" TV series) and the decent if wobbly screenplay from Jon and Erich Hoeber, the duo that hammed it up (better) in the action gem "Red" with
The premise is simple and uninspired, even if there's a surprisingly effective development near the end: NASA transmits a message to an Earth-like planet in another galaxy and in return receives a rude response -- an invasion off Hawaii! To dress up an overused scenario while tipping their hat at the original board game, the writers toss in a bunch of razor-sharp projectile cylinders that can tear through ships and roadways.
In between truly cheesy dialogue like "we're looking at an extinction level event," the Hoebers slip in some choice nuggets, including a couple of lines delivered with standout polish by Liam Neeson. The talented actor -- who has a very small role -- plays Admiral Shane, an imposing figure whose daughter Sam (Brooklyn Decker, in a featherweight part) is dating the screw-up Alex. And Kitsch, who didn't exactly collect out-of-this-world notices for "John Carter," proves detractors wrong by showing he can convincingly carry an action film, even when his character is a "Top Gun" clone.
Others in the cast are nice to have around, but don't have much heavy lifting to do. Pop star Rihanna, playing a private, capably recites lines like "Got it, sir!" The diva has presence, exactly what
the role requires, but not much more.
Alexander Skarsgard ("True Blood") is his charismatic self as Alex's far more disciplined and respected brother; he's a Navy commander, but he's not around much. As a jittery scientist, Hamish Linklater is hilarious, while Gregory D. Gadson shows promise as an Iraq veteran who tangles with the aliens.
Not all of "Battleship" works. But even when you're laughing at it -- not with it -- the blockbuster remains silly fun, leaks and all.
Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence, action and destruction and for language) Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson Director: Peter Berg Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes
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