March 14, 2011

EAT YOUR PIE, YOU JARHEADED PATRIOT!!!!

As I stated in my verbal reaming of Skyline, there is a subconscious facet of my personality that is a direct result of my living in San Francisco. Said subconscious facet is the desire to see the city of Los Angeles get blown up real good. The bigger the explosions the better. Skyline sought to satiate my cravings. Unfortunately, it got caught up in how inept it was and all I was left with was a rusty taste in my mouth. Now, we have Battle: Los Angeles, which claims to be everything Skyline was not. B:LA claims to be filled with vicious invaders, brutal firefights, and more explosions than you could shake a Roland Emmerich script at. It succeeds where Skyline failed, but is does more than this. Battle: Los Angeles, while still loud, frenetic and stupid, is actually better than most people are giving it credit for. Indeed, this may be one of the most pleasant surprises of 2011. It's a frenetic, gritty, sci-fi actioner, but the script and acting are better than usual. While watching it, I had an epiphany. Battle: Los Angeles is what a Michael Bay movie should be, if Michael Bay was actually, you know, competent.

I sure could use some freedom fries right now!

It's a bright, sunny day in the city of angels. The surfers are out, doing there thing. The movie stars are no doubt, being movie stars, and Staff Seargant Nantz has just been honorably discharged from the Marines. All's well and good, if it weren't for the barrage of meteors that suddenly come streaking out of the sky, smashing into the ocean just off the coast of Santa Monica. Nantz is called back into service as his platoon is mobilized to assist in the evacuation of personnel from the area. Things take a turn for the worse though, when it is revealed that said meteors are, in reality, ships containing thousands of hostile aliens, who are hell bent on blowing the snot out of everything human in their way. Soon, Nantz and his team are fighting a desperate battle to retake Los Angeles against an enemy far more advanced then any they have ever faced. 

B:LA
wastes no time in getting to the point. We spend a few minutes getting to know the people we'll be spending the next 2 hours with and then it's all "ALIENS SHOUTING SHOOTING EXPLOSIONS ALIENS AGHGHGHGHGHGHGH!!!" We aren't really clued into why the aliens are there (some guy on TV theorizes it's for our water), but I actually was alright with this. The story is told, exclusively from the perspective of Nantz and his men. They are never told the intentions of the invaders, and, to be honest, it doesn't really matter. They are there, wreaking havoc, and it's Nantz's job to stop them. Plain and simple. There are some underdeveloped attempts at fleshing out backstories of the cast, but all are forgotten when the gunfire starts. The only purpose the script has is to quickly and efficiently move the characters along from one pitched battle to the next, and, in that sense, it's a success. 

Aaron Eckhart is far better actor than this material deserves, but he gives it his all, and does a pretty solid job as Nantz. The character has some demons and sort of a bad reputation with his men due to a call on a previous mission that got some good men killed. It's clear, right from the off, that Nantz is feeling the clich├ęd guilt, but Eckhart does a better job conveying said guilt than he needed to. He grounds the film emotionally, and we thank him for it. 

And that about does it for performances worth talking about, since no one else is really given much else to do. Michelle Rodriguez shows up as the token female badass, and Bridget Moynahan plays a civilian vet whose skills literally come in handy at one point. I will single out Ramon Rodriguez, playing the platoon's baby faced lieutenant, if only because he somewhat redeems himself for whatever the hell he was doing in Transformers 2.

To the movie's credit, the performances are better than usual. I just wish that the writers had given the cast more to work with, because they are capable of it. Oh well, at least Eckhart is on hand to deal with the heavy stuff. Everyone else, I guess, is content to just shoot things. 

We are going to need bigger guns!

Director Jonathan Liebesman effectively creates a mash-up of Black Hawk Down and District 9. How does he do this? By copy/pasting both of those films into one document. The action is shaky and intimate, like in Black Hawk Down, but, it's not afraid to introduce some cool and over the top things, like in District 9. It's filmed like a documentary, like District 9. A ship rises slowly from under the street in which it was buried, like in District 9. The marine's opposition is more fond of staying on the rooftops and setting up ambushes than running pell mell at them, like in Black Hawk Down. The "creative homages" don't stop there. B:LA has explosions up the ass, much like a Michael Bay film, and said explosions are usually courtesy of the hovering ships raining fiery death down on the fat angelinos, like in Independence Day. Hell, Liebesman was so "influenced" by these films, he even made the "voices" of the aliens the exact same as the prawns from District 9.

But, you know, if he does a good job of mixing all these qualities into a good package, than there's really nothing to complain about, and Liebesman does just that. B:LA may be hopelessly derivative of it's predecessors, but it's at least honest about it and doesn't apologize at all. At the end of the day, it's a damn entertaining romp. The action is furious and exciting, and a lot of the smaller touches that Liebesman utilizes do a lot in making the world he's created more convincing. Bodies litter the streets the marines are trekking through, and the bombed out shells of buildings and the ravaged freeways look damn realistic. Most of this is credited to the damn good special effects, but, you know, the director had a hand in this somewhere.

Battle: Los Angeles is a B-movie, but it's a good B-movie. Sure the script and characters are underdeveloped, and aspects such as the intention of the invaders is never fully explained. But the movie is a lot of fun, and significantly better made than I think any of us expected. Give it a chance, it might surprise you. I'd like to close this review by respond to a quip made about B:LA by one, Roger Ebert. In his review of the movie, Ebert - shamelessly, I might add - basically says that any man who goes to this film and enjoys it is bad boyfriend material. To that I say, "Yo, Ebert. I saw it. I enjoyed it. And I think I'm a good boyfriend. So, shut it!" Well, I'm done with that. Watch the skies for falling objects folks. You know what they signal.




4 comments:

  1. I'm going to be controversial and state that I loved the gritty aspect of it - the attempt to be a sort of "Independence Day meets the Hurt Locker" film.

    But it just doesn't work. You can't put the Hurt Locker's handheld cinematography against Independence Day's orchestral score. You can't have the Hurt Locker's random, brutal and pointless world outlook, but still give us Independence Day's "heroic soldiers defeat the mothership" sequence.

    You're right, though - it's not as bad as most critics would say, but it's not as good as it is interesting.

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  2. What a fuckin' disaster this was. The End.

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  3. @ Darren: Glad to know we're more or less on the same page. It had it's problems, but the few things it did right it did very well. I think we can all appreciate that.

    @Aiden: Poop!

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  4. Yep. Pretty “meh.” Like the most banal and crappy combination of Independence Day and the Hurt Locker I’ve ever seen. In the end, it's just a video game, up on the screen. Good review, check out mine when you can please!

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