Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Battle: Los Angeles

Title: Battle: Los Angeles

Another Alien Invasion Movie? How Many Can Hollywood Make? Hey, if you're happy getting complacent in the face of extraterrestrial onslaught, that's fine. Just don't come crying to me when they teleport you to the Probe Nebula.

Rating Using Randon Objects Relevant To The Film: Two M712 "Copperhead" rounds out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Aliens invade earth. One Marine platoon goes on a search-and-rescue mission in occupied Santa Monica, with predictable results.

Does Anybody Outside Los Angeles Really Care If They're Invaded? Actually, not even Hollywood cares that much, since the bulk of the movie was shot in Louisiana.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: If you've seen the previews, you know the premise: Hostile extraterrestrials have been conducting reconnaissance on Earth for decades. Waiting for the moment to strike. Why a species capable of space travel chose to do so after we invented nuclear weapons and jet aircraft will remain one of our great mysteries.

Staff Sgt. Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), leads his platoon to rescue stranded civilians from a police station. Along the way they'll grapple with confounding alien anatomy, internal conflict, and the unspoken but oft-referred-to problem: The bulk of our fighting forces are over in Asia and the Middle East, not home preparing for invaders from Mars.

"Oft-referred-to?" There were at least three conspicuous shots of posters and/or homemade displays asking for the troops to come home safely. You can view this one of three ways: 1) the movie takes place near Camp Pendleton, where such signage is prevalent; 2) the producers are typical pinko Hollywood types, trying to make an anti-Iraq statement; 3) the deployment of our forces across such wide theaters of combat have left our shores dangerously unprepared for an imminent attack from outer space. I actually believe that last one.

"Critical" Analysis: I love war movies, and I love alien-invasion movies--dating back to Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and George Pal's War of the Worlds--so this should've been win-win. Unfortunately, director Jonathan Liebesman stumbles over just about every genre cliché possible. Times two.

The movie starts out promisingly enough. In a hastily convened military briefing, a Marine commander informs his men that forces unknown have laid siege to major cities across the globe, and Los Angeles may be the last holdout on the West Coast. The soldiers board helicopters and ride off into battle, the camera flickering over their faces as they get their first looks at the chaos awaiting them.

"How refreshing," I thought, "Leibesman just going to dump us into the fight without any hokey prelude or stock military characterization. This could be interesting." Not so fast Chuckles, for no sooner had the movie's title faded out than the dreaded words "24 hours earlier" took the screen, and those things I just mentioned showed up like party guests you didn't invite but came over anyway because somebody talked about it on the Facebook.

There's the standard complement of soldier stereotypes: About-To-Be-Married Guy (Ne-Yo), Twitchy PSTD Case (Jim Parrack), Stoic African (Nzinga Blake), and The Commander Who Just Graduated OCS, which is literally how he's described in the film (Ramón Rodriguez). Finally, our main character (Staff Sergeant Nantz) is--I shit you not--less than two weeks from retirement.

Even after all that, the prospect of a kind of Black Hawk Down: Santa Monica held *some* promise, considering the differences between Marine and alien tactics and what sort of weaponry the soldiers might be facing.

As it turns out, aliens fire guns too. And their drones, when not assembled in flying saucer form, look suspiciously like U.S. military aircraft. Worse, while this is supposedly a platoon less than two weeks from deployment, they're some of the shittiest soldiers I've ever seen. I may be nothing more than a student of military tactics, but even I know walking bunched together in an alleyway and pausing to play with a dog aren't examples of sound combat protocol.

Yeah, I know, complaining about realism in a movie about invaders from outer space doesn't make much sense. Still, they aren't the "United States Defense Force," or some such, they wear Marine uniforms, carry Marine weapons, and fly on Marine CH-46s. It's not too much to expect them to fight accordingly.

I wish I could tell you the cool explode-y parts make up for the cornball dialogue and wholly predictable ending, but while some of the action is indeed of the "kick ass" variety, it won't keep you from the gradual realization that Battle: Los Angeles is essentially Guadalcanal Diary with ETs.

Battle: Los Angeles is in theaters today. May I suggest a double feature of The Hurt Locker and the indie alien flick Monsters instead?

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar