Battle: Los Angeles

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
   Battle: Los Angeles
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

A swarm of meteors begins hitting the Earth, but they do not behave as the scientists expected. Instead, they are falling just off the coast of 20 major cities world wide. Things change radically when a Coast Guard cutter is destroyed and shadowy beings rise from the sea and begin the mass extermination of all humans. A US Marine platoon is assigned to go into the war zone to save civilians from death at the hands of the invading extraterrestrials in “Battle: Los Angeles.”

Robin:
Aaron Eckhart plays troubled S/Sgt Michael Nantz, newly arrived to join the platoon as it readies to enter the alien jaws of death. He and the rest of the Marines in the troop are under the command of 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), a 90-day wonder who has never seen combat. Martinez and his men are ordered to go behind enemy lines and free a group of civilians before the Air Force carpet bombs the entire enemy held territory. It is a race against the clock as the Marines battle their way to the police station where a handful of civilians are hiding from the power and menace of Earth’s greatest challenge, ever.

It quickly becomes obvious that the meteor strikes are far from random and extremely foreboding. The military quickly learns the true nature of the attack from outer space: Destroy all humans and colonize planet Earth. These extraterrestrial bad guys take no prisoners as they range their awesome destructive power over the world’s major cities. It becomes “us against them” for the Marines sent on the rescue mission and they give their lives, one by one, to complete that mission.

The script for “Battle: Los Angeles,” by Christopher Bertolini, uses every “save the earth from aliens” cliché it can lay its hand on, like “War of the World” (the bad one with Tom Cruise, not the good one with Gene Barry) and, especially, “Independence Day.” Aaron Eckhart must have known, while making “Battle: Los Angeles,” that he is the star of nonsensical sci-fi drama that relies more on the (well-done) special effects than on good writing. The plot holes throughout this self-proclaimed epic must be the cause for the actor’s look of constant consternation from beginning to end. I felt the same way.

The film starts off introducing the key players to the audience in an attempt to evoke sympathy for the soon-to-be-beleaguered Marines. It becomes obvious, as their number dwindle, that only a handful of them will survive the battle against the aliens. When the massive firepower of the invaders destroys the bulk of the military’s hardware and personnel, it is up to Sgt. Nantz and his stalwart survivors to put a stop to the bad ETs. But, instead of being a quick paced action adventure, at nearly two-hours “Battle: Los Angeles” is a ponderous check list of obstacles the men and women must overcome (the Marines are joined by chopper pilot, T/Sgt, Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez) and civilian veterinarian Michelle (Bridget Moynahan}.

There are some characters that evoke sympathy, such as Corpsman Jibril Aduku (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) who is unceasing in his efforts to help the injured and wounded. Michael Pena, as Joe Rincon, one of the civilians, who proves himself a hero, garners empathy in his small role as a protective father. The others, including Eckhart, are mere two dimensional figures going through their paces. The good special effects, at times, make “Battle: Los Angeles” watchable for short bursts. However, good F/X alone does not make a good movie and they cannot save this one. I give it a C-.

Laura:
After being outrun by his men on the beach, SSgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart, "The Dark Knight") turns in his resignation to his commanding officer.  He's been a Marine for twenty years and is haunted by the group of men he lost in battle.  But within twenty-four hours, Nantz finds himself second in command to new officer's school graduate 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez, "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3") in the field against an unknown enemy of overpowering odds in "Battle: Los Angeles."

Director Jonathan Liebesman ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning") was born in Johannesburg just like "District 9's" Neill Blomkamp but the similarities end there.  This loud, hollow, kitchen sink popcorn movie looks pretty good, but its script, written by Christopher Bertolini, missing from the big screen since 1999's "The General's Daughter," is a modern day "War of the Worlds" with a stupid premise and a mostly interchangeable cast of characters.  Oh, and this film thinks Paris is a coastal city.

After opening the film mid-action with Nantz and his men in a copter watching Los Angeles being pummeled amidst several near misses, we go back 24 hours to get introduced to characters with title cards indicating their names and cliches to try and make them stick.  Nantz is the equivalent of the retiring cop who gets dragged into major crime on his last day on the job. Martinez says goodbye to a proud, pregnant wife.  Ne-Yo is Cpl. Kevin Harris, picking out wedding flowers with his fiancee while receiving good natured jibes from his best man.  Cpl. Jason Lockett (Cory Hardrict, "He's Just Not That Into You") visits his fellow Marine brother's grave.  Corpsman Jibril Adukwu (Adetokumboh M'Cormack, TV's 'Lost,' 'Heroes'), an aspiring doctor, defends the honor of the beautiful woman in Nigeria he's speaking to via Skype (can you guess?  his sister, of course) and Pfc. Shaun Lenihan (Noel Fisher, SHOtime's 'Shameless') is the rookie virgin. There are more, but these are the most memorable of the bunch.

In the background, reports start coming through that a group of asteroids is headed our way, and will most likely crash into the sea.  As the reports are updated, we hear that they will and are hitting coastal cities around the globe.  No one seems to think this coincidence odd. Then a bunch of robotic looking thingmes with flying saucer heads march out of the Santa Monica surf and all hell breaks loose.  With Santa Monica airport established as a military base and the city being evacuated, a shaky Martinez is tasked with rescuing civilians at a police station.

Let's stop here.  As soon as this Marine squad heads out, it is quite clear that thousands are still trying to get out of the city.  But this group of twenty or so men is sent against ridiculous odds to rescue what turns out to be 1/2 dozen people.  These turn out to be veterinarian Michele (Bridget Moynahan, "Ramona and Beezus") and her young nieces Kirsten (Joey King, Moynahan's "Beezus" costar) and Amy (Jadin Gould) along with Joe Rincon (Michael Peña, "World Trade Center") and his young son Hector (Bryce Cass) because, of course, we need child endangerment and Marine hero worship.  The Marines, severely depleted by this point, pick up a few stray Air Force soldiers, most notably TSgt. Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez).

Cliches abound.  Nantz must prove himself, which he does in spades, winning the admiration of all, yet he still must have a later showdown with Lockett whose brother was, of course, part of his squad.  A rescue copter leaves with wounded just before the children can be passed in only to be hit by the aliens in front of the horrified survivors.  There's bits of "Speed" (Martinez advises they take the highway - all of which we have seen repeatedly choked with cars trying to evacuate?), "Alien Autopsy" and the self sacrifice of many a war film. We learn the aliens are attacking to use our water, which is their fuel - so why didn't they just suck some up mid-ocean and save everyone all this trouble?  The film's climax is belabored and unbelievable.

Eckhart, who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for his layered and sensitive performance as a grieving dad in "Rabbit Hole," uses his square jaw to good effect, but is forced to spout dialogue such as 'I'm still here, like the punch line to a bad joke.'  Rodriguez's touch chick schtick is always welcome.  M'Cormack and Peña show sensitivity as the budding doctor and dad, respectively.  The film's aliens sometimes look robotic and sometimes organic, but at least they're somewhat interesting looking.  CGI and matte work is solid.  The action is captured in typical shaky handheld style, the aliens fleetingly glimpsed a la "Cloverfield." Original Music by Brian Tyler ("The Expendables") is anything but.

"Battle: Los Angeles" is like watching a good looking video game played by someone else.  It's all about destruction, sense has nothing to do with it.

D+
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