If ever the world needed an update of 1996′s destruction opus Independence Day, today’s new release Battle Los Angeles seeks to fill that need. Running just under two hours, Battle Los Angeles (there is no colon in the opening title screen) takes us on a fly-on-the-wall journey into the battlefields of Santa Monica and lets us bear witness to the human struggle against extraterrestrial invasion. Be prepared, though – it’s a bumpy ride.
I’m not kidding – it’s a BUMPY ride.
What I mean by this is that Battle Los Angeles has fallen victim to that oh-so-trendy beast in action films: the shaky-cam. Not content to let the film’s visuals or actors take the reins and use that to draw us in, director Jonathan Liebesman and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin go all out in order to make us feel feel like WE ARE THERE during the movie. Movies like this are supposed to be “event” movies, where our brains are to be checked like coats at a restaurant. And at this restaurant, they’re serving you a fairly standard piece of steak gussied up in a 100 mile-per-hour rollercoaster with absolutely no brakes, no seat belts and tons of bumps, plummeting and shaking. However, ultimately, there’s nothing mind-blowing about this movie – if you take it as popcorn fare and forget about it as soon as the lights come back on, you’ll be entertained. If you’re looking for anything better than that, go see The King’s Speech or something else mentally stimulating.
You can’t get more simple than this setup – meteors start falling to Earth, near populated coastlines. These aren’t meteors, however – they’re alien lifeforms, intent on destroying earth’s population and taking the water. Aaron Eckhart tries his best to ground this film in some kind of reality by playing hardened, war-weary Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, who’s got what I like to call “manly baggage”: that chip on the shoulder, that skeleton in the closet that the audience won’t find out about until the opportune moment, when that person decides that someone else needs to hear it as a way of comforting them. That way, neither person will feel alone in this world (cue the dramatic music). Staff Sergeant Nantz, on the eve of retirement, gets called back into service, only to be put in an evacuation unit under the command of a former underling. Their mission? To make one final sweep of Santa Monica for any human survivors, because the Air Force is about to make a bombing run that will utterly destroy the city and anyone or anything in it. Finding five civilians in a burned-out police station, they try to make their way back to the Forward Operating Base from which their mission was launched… which is where they run into problematic resistance from the alien invaders.
Sound easy? Well, it is. Neither script nor acting are weak, nor are they Oscar-caliber. It’s merely a means to an end, which is to provide moviegoers with a barely-compelling story in order to make the most of a theater’s audio/visual equipment. Aside from Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez and Bridget Moynihan, the cast is a bunch of relative unknowns – you’ve definitely seen an actor or two here or there in character parts, and all of them do the jobs that the meager script lets them do. Which is too bad, because given the right treatment, this certainly could have been a better film.
What I can’t get over is the constant restlessness of the camera and this utter necessity to shoulder-mount it so that you’re right there in the action. That and these unnecessary triple-zoom-ins and triple-zoom-outs on the same subject – one time happening during a conversation, for Pete’s sake – make this movie unbearable to watch. Usually, shaky camerawork is meant to lend energy to a scene; here, it just annoys and nauseates. I can understand their effort to best mimic a soldier’s wartime experience, where you have to refocus on something different every other second and your perspectives are constantly shifting. Maybe it’s because they’re choosing not to dwell too much on the computer-animated alien warriors or their spaceships; however, this technique renders everything unmemorable, and it’s hard to really get behind any character when you can’t really see what they’re fighting. Are they biomechanical? Organic? Who knows? One (literal) exposition scene serves to give some answers, but you still can’t see much.
Independence Day, as mindless as it may have been, was a destruction movie done RIGHT. You saw stuff blowing up, bodies flying around, and the human spirit triumphs. With Battle Los Angeles, you get nothing but a gigantic headache from trying to see, well, anything. Personally, I’d like to bill Liebesman and Ettlin for the bottle of Tylenol I bought on the way home from this movie. But if everyone could get what they wanted, Battle Los Angeles would have been a better movie.
FINAL GRADE: C-
TRR Movie Revue by Eddie Pasa