When “Transformers” arose from the bowels of the Hollywood movie machine — that shadowy place where production companies venture after having exhausted plot concepts — the end of creative action films seemed nigh. What next, an action film on Hot Wheels? (Possibly already done? See: “The Fast and the Furious” movie series.) Perhaps they’d exploit board games when they’d drained all the action out of action figures. Call up Hasbro to sort out finicky copyright details, slap a “Twister” on it and bill it as an intense psychological thriller with an insane manipulative mastermind a la Jigsaw from “Saw.” Movie-making in the modern age has become “the game that ties you up in knots” indeed.
But one person’s humorous commentary on the state of Hollywood action film creativity today is a Hollywood producer’s dream. Though no summer blockbuster exists where a deep, disembodied voice echoes to a trapped hostage, “It puts the left foot on the green,” (Yo, Universal Studios, hit me up for the rights to that “Twister” idea. I can practically taste the money — it tastes like filthy stripper g-strings and cocaine.) Hasbro and Universal Studios teamed up to make “Battleship”. The sci-fi naval action film takes the classic childhood board game and makes it louder, sexier and more violent — essentially, everything your rinky-dink plastic set-up was not.
The plot seems familiar. Scientists have discovered a “Goldilocks” planet with the right conditions to sustain life. Those snooty scientists, with their passion for knowledge and curiosity for the great unknown secrets of deep space, attempt to communicate with potential life forms on Planet G. Does the G stand for Goldilocks? Or is the planet just sort of a “G?” Either way, great writing on the part of the Hoeber brothers. Actually, I’m joking. That’s almost as bad as James Cameron’s “Avatar” naming the element on Pandora “unobtanium” — even that has its origins in engineering and older science fiction.
In fact, the writing is probably one of the more unsavory aspects of “Battleship.” The dialogue can be cringingly cheesy which, in my book, is kind of wonderful. “You say E.T. wants to phone home?” asks the curly-haired, geek scientist upon learning that the reason for the destruction of almost the entire U.S. Pacific naval fleet is, believe it or not, a simple phone call to Planet G — though “simple” actually translates to “requiring three satellites to shoot up beams across this galaxy and into another galaxy.” You know, that type of simple.
Beyond tawdry dialogue, the film delves into borderline racist jokes. Lieutenant Alex Hopper cites “The Art of War” to his Japanese counterpart, Captain Nagata, who quickly points out he is Japanese. Boatswain Mate Ordy mutters “Konichiwa” as the Japanese navy assembles at a ceremony. He is shushed by Rihanna, who has traded in her diva regalia for camouflage naval garb, her long tresses shorn to a pixie bob to add to the military realism.
The only problem is that it’s not realistic at all. In what world would a svelte girl like Rihanna man a machine gun twice her size? To her credit, however, Rihanna does a passable job at playing Petty Officer Cora “Weps” Raikes. She claims to have studied “bad bitches” in action films to inspire her own portrayal of the rough and tumble, no-nonsense gunner who mumbles “Mahalo, motherfuckers,” as she rips apart an alien machine with her precise aim.
There is no talent shortage in “Battleship.” The ever ferocious Liam Neeson plays Admiral Shane, but there’s not nearly enough of him in the movie. (Note to Hollywood: needs more Neeson. Also more cowbell.) Taylor Kitsch plays Lieutenant Hopper, the degenerate-turned-hero who displays tenacity and stupidity in equal measure and charms the audience from the get-go thanks in part to an absurdly hilarious opening scene of him trying to get a chicken burrito for his dream girl. Captain Nagata, played by Tadanobu Asano, was a gem of a character, embodying resiliency in the face of adversity and serving as a foil to the misguided Hopper.
And need I even mention the special effects? Some visually impressive scenes of Hong Kong’s destruction entice the eyeballs but maybe the CGI budget should’ve stopped where the aliens’ faces begin. The alien ship rises Transformer-like from the ocean, the resemblance likely due to the fact that “Battleship” was made by the same people who brought you “Transformers.” With fight scenes spliced with corny comedic relief, “Battleship” is ridiculous fun — emphasis on “ridiculous.” Nevertheless, “Battleship” doesn’t necessarily sink. Nor does it really swim. It does, however, battle admirably for your attention. Whether you choose to humor it or not is up to you