Critics have funny timing. They pick on The Avengers for being “cynical” when it was written and directed by a guy who loves the Marvel universe so much that he actually scripted comic books featuring the same characters — it might be the only film of its ilk that isn’t cynical. Now reviewers have turned their big guns on the board-game-inspired, Navy-versus-aliens saga Battleship, which certainly is a cynical piece of manufacturing, but it’s also one of the more enjoyably terrible movies of the year — not to mention a much-needed morale booster for the Navy, which hasn’t seen much combat during our ongoing campaigns in various deserts and isolated mountain ranges. Here’s a case in which Hasbro’s interest is America’s interest.
The film is also a cautionary tale for Spielberg-sodden Pollyannas who think that when E.T. finally comes, he’ll be content with Reese’s Pieces. It opens with scientists discovering a “Goldilocks planet” in a far-off solar system which is located the proper distance from its sun to sustain life, so they promptly send out a “Whassup, homey?” signal. Bad move. Sometime later, three ships whiz past Mars and plunge into the Pacific, from which they throw up a force field as well as giant arches that appear to be the logo of a fast-food chain based on the alien bestseller, To Serve Man.
This time, though, Pearl Harbor won’t be caught sleeping.
Taylor Kitsch, fresh from fighting aliens on Mars in John Carter, brings his boyishly unshaven good looks to the role of Alex Hopper, an irresponsible lieutenant in love with the willowy-but-stacked blond daughter (Brooklyn Decker) of the commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). “You’ve got skills,” the Admiral snarls, “but I have never seen a man as irresponsible as you!” Becoming responsible will help Hopper on two fronts: the willowy-but-stacked blond-winning and Earth-saving ones. He will, however, need to join forces with his nemesis, the smug Captain Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Asano), the commander of a visiting Japanese destroyer.
If you’re marveling at the irony of Americans and Japanese teaming up to fight an alien sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Elderly vets back for a U.S.S. Missouri reunion are the only people who know how to operate a battleship that isn’t one of those newfangled, high-tech, nuclear-warhead-equipped numbers. So Battleship is a celebration of both old and new American values. A member of the Greatest Generation schools Rihanna (playing Petty Officer 2nd Class weapons specialist Cora Raikes on the U.S.S John Paul Jones) in torpedo-loading. U.S. Army Colonel Gregory D. Gadson — a former battalion leader who lost both legs in Iraq and has the no-b.s. charisma of Ving Rhames — plays a double-amputee who stages a one-man assault on an alien-commandeered relay station. The smug, reptilian aliens don’t have a prayer, assuming they even believe in God, which I bet you anything they don’t.
I take no position on illegal drugs, but if you happen to find some lying around, I can’t think of a better occasion for them. Indeed, Battleship gives new meaning to the hero’s climactic exhortation to his troops: “Light ‘em up!”