Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:

Title: Battleshit

Looks Like a Typo in The Title There: It isn't.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Half a lobotomy icepick out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Invasion by dumb aliens repelled by attractive sailors.

Tagline: "The battle for Earth begins at sea."

Better Tagline: "For everyone who didn't find Transformers 3 loud or dumb enough."

Does It at Least Qualify As a "Popcorn Movie?" Meaning "one not intended for serious examination?" We can avoid going into the particulars of why asking one to "turn their brain off" is kind of stupid while still pointing out that in order for a movie to qualify for "popcorn" designation, it should be ... fun. Maybe the plot's weak or the acting isn't exactly up to scratch, but it can be forgiven if it allows you to forget your troubles for a couple hours. There's nothing about Battleship that doesn't feel like the conclusion of a hundred lengthy focus-group discussions.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: NASA's attempts to communicate with a distant planet similar to Earth attract unwanted attention in the form of a hostile alien force bent on global conquest. Their communication ship crippled, the aliens attempt to seize a mountain satellite array on Oahu, with no one to stop them but hotheaded Navy Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), whose destroyer (the John Paul Jones) is the only ship remaining inside a defensive force field put up by the aliens. Coincidentally, his girlfriend Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), a physical therapist, is also on the mountain with one of her patients. Can they stop the aliens from calling for reinforcements? Will Samantha's father, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), give them permission to marry? Has anyone ever seen writer/director Peter Berg and Michael Bay in the same place at the same time?

"Critical" Analysis: Reaction to the news of what's sure to be a terrible movie — usually a remake or comic/video game adaptation — generally mirrors that of the Kübler-Ross model. First there's denial ("A board game? No one would make a movie out of a *board game*."), then anger ("Fucking Battleship?! Why not Gnip-Gnop?!"), followed by bargaining ("Maybe if Battleship makes enough money, Universal will help Guillermo Del Toro get At the Mountains of Madness off the ground...") and then depression ("Maybe we should stop going to movies altogether.").

But there's no acceptance, because to accept the existence of Battleship is to finally admit what we've suspected all along: Humanity just isn't that bright, and maybe an invasion by a force of vengeful extraterrestrials is what our weary planet needs. And incidentally, the assertion by Dr. Zapata (Hamish Linklater) that sending beacons heedlessly out into space might attract civilizations bent on conquest instead of friendship is the only reason the movie received half a [star] at all.

You can almost see the internal studio memos scrolling across the screen. From the casting ("Rihanna will help secure the coveted 13-22 M/F demo") to the alien war machines ("Transformers: DotM $1.2bn gross suggests robot mod for all current properties") to the soundtrack ("Music should be of heavier 'rock' variant, though familiar enough to be non-threatening: suggest STP and AC/DC"), there's not a second of this movie that hasn't been tweaked to squeeze the maximum number of dollars out of people who are not yet sick of hearing "Thunderstruck."

Obviously, profit is the goal behind making movies, but studios and directors still find a way to make the experience occasionally enjoyable and not leave audiences feeling like they've just been dangled upside down to shake the change out of their pockets. Put more effort into the story than just "aliens invade Hawaii." That's Lilo & Stitch with warships (except Lilo & Stitch is actually good). Pick a cast based on criteria other than Troubled Hunky Lead, Beautiful Angelic Girlfriend, Sassy Black Chick, Twitchy Scientist and Steely-Eyed Commander. Don't ape Michael Bay.

No doubt many in the audience will think they're watching a movie directed by His Royal Bayness, what with all the giant robots, creepy lingering shots of the nubile female lead's breasts and hindquarters, and slow-motion military fetishism. Berg joins Bay and Steven Spielberg as a director we can always rely on to suck off the DoD. The casting of an actual double amputee soldier (Army Col. Gregory Gadsen, who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq) was a nice gesture, which quickly devolves into insult when it turns out all the proud black soldier needed to motivate him was a pretty white girl.

Fun fact: The Pentagon wouldn't cooperate on The Avengers because it was too "unrealistic," but Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has a cameo in Battleship, a movie about two fictional entities: an invading alien force and a fully funded NASA. And why wouldn't he? As a movie, Battleship is a hell of a recruitment video. "Join the Navy, kids! You'll meet Rihanna and get promoted to Lt. Commander in five years no matter what's on your disciplinary record and date the Admiral's hot daughter, all while saving the world from aliens...provided their ships are only capable of making medium-range hops on water."

Were we wrong about Berg all along? He sure fooled the shit out of us with Friday Night Lights, except this time, instead of an intelligent, provocative Buzz Bissinger book, he had a board game. Source material counts for a lot, apparently. Maybe we should've considered uneven efforts like The Kingdom and Hancock warning shots in advance of the towering shit sandwich that is his latest effort.

The worst part? After over two hours of eardrum-pounding explosions, idiotic plot holes (the aliens who landed in broad daylight don't like sunlight, the decommissioned USS Missouri is in fact fully operational, with retired sailors just hanging around should the need arise), and excuses to make Decker's breasts jiggle, they don't even say The Line. You thought your expectations couldn't be any lower, and then Battleship sailed right under them.

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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