Sitting in the theatre last night, a line from an old Tool song was rattling around in my brain. “One great big, festering, neon distraction” was used by the band to describe the state of California, but the description couldn’t be more apt for Peter Berg’s BATTLESHIP. A deafening, blue and orange military recruitment tool, the film can’t even sustain its laughably simple premise, and attempts to promote a message so unappealing to its target audience I was left questioning why it even exists.
Story is the least important element here, so lets just say that in between all the sweeping helicopter shots and blinding lens flare, an international Naval war games exercise is interrupted by alien invaders, and it’s up to reckless officer Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) to save the day. Kitsch delivers solid character work early on, but soon gets lost in the cacophony of bangs and seizure-inducing editing which leaves little room for the human story. Inexplicably added to the mix are pop star Rihanna, seemingly here for no other reason than, well, she’s Rihanna, and Liam Neeson collecting his paycheck for around 10 minutes of screen time. But, as I said, we’re not here for the story, rather the spectacular action and special effects right? The bad news is that when the aliens finally show up, BATTLESHIP’s pace strangely slows to a crawl (no doubt due to the limited options offered by the source material), and all potential excitement and interest evaporates. Director Berg forces the idea of teamwork down the audience’s throats (Japan and the US fighting together in Hawaii? Wonders never cease), and doesn’t even try to disguise his recruitment agenda. Indeed, the film is little more than a hyperkinetic music video (oh, that’s why Rihanna is here) designed to lure impressionable youth into signing up so they too can fight the ‘alien invaders’.
Herein lies the problem however: young people today almost definitely don’t play Battleship. Basing a tentpole film on a board game seemed like a daft idea from the outset, but recent cinema history has seen a theme park ride turned into a critically and financially successful franchise, so precedent is there in a way. Unfortunately for Universal, even those of us who grew up in a pre-internet/Xbox Live world remember Battleship as a desperately boring endeavour, so how can it be expected to compete in today’s short attention-span culture? The strange metaphor that Berg attempts to craft in the film’s third act, suggesting that we need to remember and re-appraise the past, just won’t fly with 21st century teens bred in our disposable, constantly updating world of technological wonder. BATTLESHIP’s strange juxtaposition of bombastic special effects framing ancient board game mechanics simply doesn’t sit right, and it’s hard to imagine the teen audience, so crucial for success at the summer box-office, tearing themselves away from the latest CALL OF DUTY to embrace the turn-based ‘excitement’ of this ridiculous film. No amount of explosions can salvage a limp and underwritten movie, and BATTLESHIP, not entirely unexpectedly, is torpedoed by its own outdated inspiration.