Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Cory Hardrict, Gino Anthony Pesi, Ne-Yo, James Hiroyuki Liao, Bridget Moynahan, Noel Fisher, Adetokumboh M'Cormack, Bryce Cass, Michael Peña, Michelle Rodriguez, Neil Brown Jr., Taylor Handley, Joey King
Written by: Christopher Bertolini
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language
Running Time: 116
Date: 03/08/2011
IMDB

Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

1/2 Star (out of 4)

Alien Evasion

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The seminal alien invasion movie, The War of the Worlds, contained an actual idea, but now the genre bends one of two ways: it either broadcasts ironic messages about brotherly love, or it's simply a battle movie in disguise, although politically correct, like "war-without-borders." Battle: Los Angeles doesn't pretend to be anything else. It's a hopped-up war movie, where the only solutions involve giant explosions.

In August of 2011, meteors begin approaching the earth; they turn out to be alien invaders bent on colonizing our planet. The military underestimates the threat and soon, everything comes down to one band of scrappy young Marines. Making their way through the ruined concrete jungles of the bombed-out city, these warriors pick up a few stranded, brave civilians, and slowly begin to discover the secrets behind their attackers. But can they put their knowledge to good use before it's too late?

Director Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) is so excited about all this that he swings his camera into the fray, lurching around and twitching as if it were a round of ammo. As a result, neither the similarly-clad Marines, nor the CGI aliens get much actual screen time, and everything is a jackhammer haze of metal spray and concrete dust. But Aaron Eckhart is the star, playing veteran Staff Sergeant Nantz; some men once died under his command, and his new recruits eye him with suspicion, as if he were a bigger threat than the aliens. Bridget Moynahan and Michael Peña are recognizable as civilians, but not as characters.

Liebesman does make some vague, early attempt to establish characters: this one is supposed to get married, and that one has been seeing a shrink, but none of it comes to anything. Most of the dialogue involves military speak; bad movie buffs could make a drinking game out of how many times someone says "Roger that" or someone's "got eyes on" something. Half the time the dialogue is obscured by noise, and when that's not the case, the blaring score drowns everything.

This dunderheaded movie totally fails to understand the rhythms that make great war movies: the pauses, the rest stops, the focus on characters rather than battles. When the battles come, they should be chaotic within a clear context, so that the audience is invited in. If a camera is shaking, it doesn't equal the chaos of war; it just equals a shaky camera. Battle: Los Angeles has a fervor, but it's all in the wrong place. It's so empty, disorienting, and inept that it makes junk like Independence Day, Transformers, and Skyline look skilled and intelligent.

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