Battleship

May 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Rihanna
Directed by: Peter Berg (“Hancock”)
Written by: Erich Hoeber (“RED”) and Jon Hoeber (“RED”)

I never actually played Battleship when I was a kid. By that I mean I played a game called Sea Battle, a wonky electronic knock-off sold by Radio Shack. My sister and I would play, entering the locations of our fleet into the game’s screwy memory. The idea was that you’d punch the coordinates into the game while announcing them out loud, and the game would reference its two kilobytes of memory and register a hit with the sound of a bomb whistling followed by an explosion; a miss would be the whistle followed by silence. As was the case with all the battery-powered garbage Radio Shack sold, it rarely worked correctly…a trait I had no idea would prepare me for a movie that wouldn’t be released until 25 years later.

Based on the Hasbro board game of the same name, “Battleship” begins with a block of text detailing The Beacon Project, an effort by scientists to contact a distant planet capable of sustaining life. High-powered satellites blast beams of energy into deep space and receive an answer in the form of a relatively small alien invasion. After one of their ships crashes into Pacific near Hawaii, the U.S. Navy is sent to investigate. The aliens react by attacking and erecting a force field around three ships, forcing the sailors on board to engage the enemy in combat without the benefit of reinforcements.

Perhaps recognizing that the movie’s source material is nothing but a plot-less guessing game that happens to feature naval vessels, Hasbro and director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) have decided that the solution to that problem is to make “Battleship” look and sound as much like Michael Bay’s  “Transformers” movies as possible. Berg apes Bay so relentlessly, from sweeping shots of military equipment to the incomprehensible close-ups of spinning and whirring alien technology to everything being SO GODDAMN LOUD, you’d swear that the invading aliens would turn out to be farting racial stereotypes.

Thankfully Berg avoids Bay’s penchant for terrible humor, but in the end he’s still managed to turn in just another brain-dead destruco-porn alien invasion movie. A paper-thin premise (that would be that battleships exist and shoot things) is gussied up with a metric ton of summer movie crap with no regard for how little sense it makes. Space-faring aliens versus a sea-faring battleship? Why the hell don’t the aliens just fly away?

On the bright side, Taylor Kitsch (of mega-bomb “John Carter” and Berg’s TV version of “Friday Night Lights”) scores a red peg, bringing moments of charm to the otherwise routine role of “impulsive hothead wasting his potential suddenly thrust into character-defining action,” and he earns real laughs breaking into a convenience store during an otherwise unnecessary prologue. The same can’t be said of the rest of the cast of white pegs, however. Liam Neeson is simply cashing a paycheck, with only about 10 minutes of screen time spread out over the entire movie. Singer Rihanna is stuck in drab fatigues for the entire movie, thus hiding her only real talent. Model Brooklyn Decker is at least given skimpy outfits to wear, but she’s also supposed to be playing a character that isn’t a model, so the whole thing falls apart. And real-life former soldier and double amputee Gregory D. Gadson stretches his limited acting ability and dignity to the breaking point when he ends up in a fistfight with a CGI alien.

Some clever touches warrant a smile or two, such as the aliens’ weapons or the impromptu grid system set up to track and attack them resembling aspects of the board game. But the empty stupidity ultimately is too powerful to overcome, sinking this “Battleship.”

Red

October 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren
Directed by: Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”)
Written by: Jon Hoeber (“Whiteout”) and Eric Hoeber (“Whiteout”)

Never mind the swift hand-to-hand combat skills Zoe Saldaña shows off in “The Losers” or the way Angelina Jolie leaps off highways and onto the tops of big rigs in “Salt;” nothing says sexy CIA spy like Dame Helen Mirren playing shoot-’em-up behind a semi-automatic.

In “Red,” an action-comedy adapted from a limited DC Comics series short for “retired, extremely dangerous,” gray hair proves to have a correlation not only with experience and ingenuity, but also an itchy trigger finger when a team of former black-op CIA agents reunite for one last cross-country firearms romp before their Social Security kicks in.

Playing a tough old dude again (most recently in a forgettable “Expendables” cameo), Bruce Willis has a little fight left in him as Frank Moses, the youngest of the retirees who has been spending his free time watching his avocado plant sprout two measly leaves and making excuses to phone flirt with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the woman who cuts his pension checks.

When Frank becomes the target of a group of hit men, he kidnaps Sarah to ensure her safety (worst way to get a date ever) and rallies his squad of former colleagues, including retirement home resident Joe (Morgan Freeman), paranoid spook Marvin (John Malkovich), and hobbyist/freelance contract killer Victoria (Mirren), to break into CIA headquarters and expose a major political cover-up.

The mission isn’t all that challenging for director Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”) and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber (“Whiteout”), who allow the geezers to come and go as they please with tons of firepower but precious little explanation. More importantly, the script maintains a playful tone and rarely takes any shortcuts by harping on the obvious, like in 2000’s “Space Cowboys,” meaning no jokes about MediCare, wrinkly asses, and drinking Ensure.

Instead, “Red” relies on its talented cast to deliver the shrewd sarcasm and a few far-fetched action sequences that make most of the film so enjoyable. While Freeman and Parker are underutilized for the most part, Malkovich is able to chew up scenery effortlessly (grenade baseball should be an Olympic sport), and Willis gives Die Hard fans reason to expect more yippee-ki-yaying before it’s all said and done.

Sure, comic-book-inspired movies don’t necessarily get better with age, but just because our heroes are on the wrong side of the half-century mark doesn’t mean things have to go downhill fast. With “Red,” it feels good to pump the brakes a bit and revel in the ridiculousness of it all.

This review originally ran in the San Antonio Current Oct. 13, 2010