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Despite Rihanna, Peter Berg’s ‘Battleship’ Lands as One of the Best Popcorn Flicks Ever

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – “Battleship” certainly could simplistically be reduced to a 131-minute propaganda piece of why you might want to enlist in the U.S. Navy – that is, if Earth had to ward off lizard-like creatures from a deep-space solar system we can only reach by slingshotting a highly amplified “What’s up, aliens?” broadcast to them.

And “Battleship,” which is rock-concert loud and lacks in strategically placed comedy, definitely will regret going down in history as being the first to offer the already rich, famous and slutty singer Rihanna a wasted, feature-film launching pad when she – like many other musicians before her (read: Britney, Mariah, etc.) – should simply stick to singing and (pole) dancing.

Alien invaders attack a naval ship in Battleship
Alien invaders attack a naval ship in “Battleship”.
Image credit: ILM/Universal Pictures

Thanks to “Battleship,” Rihanna has already been cast in 2013’s “The End of the World” with Seth Rogen and may even appear in 2013’s “The Fast and the Furious 6”. (We seriously need as many “Fast and Furious” films as “Star Wars” movies?) The “Battleship” camera – helmed by director Peter Berg (“Hancock” and the upcoming “Hancock 2”) – fears leaving it on her for more than a second and winces at giving her more than a few words to speak. Clearly she’s a blockbuster miscast.

Brooklyn Decker as Sam Shane in Battleship
Brooklyn Decker as Sam Shane in “Battleship”.
Photo credit: Frank Masi

But U.S. Navy and Rihanna aside, “Battleship” succeeds where it absolutely must: in the department of unadulterated entertainment, special effects and just plain popcorn-flick fun. While popcorn flicks like “300,” “Transformers,” “Terminator,” “Predator,” “Iron Man” and “Die Hard” are notoriously known for being a monumentally entertaining waste of time, “Battleship” fits the grouping with one exception: at least some semblance of a script to make all the ass kicking make sense.

The film’s story, which is based on the classic Hasbro naval combat game of the same name, takes Jodie Foster’s “Contact” to a whole new level. Aliens in “Contact” – communicating through satellites – give humans the coded schematics to build a machine that whizzes across space and time for Earth’s first rendezvous with little green men. “Battleship” begins the same way – with amplified satellites – but then brings the aliens in the reverse direction: to Earth.

Though the plot fails to ever reveal exactly what the aliens want (except for the desire to highjack our satellites and tell more to come to Earth) – perhaps for tea time or to nosh on our planet’s delicious bagels and baklava? – the story’s most redeeming quality is its ability to bring a classic board game’s “quadrant” combat strategy onto the big screen in an old-fashioned while also high-tech fashion.

Also, these writers even tactfully avoid the Hollywood cheese of having to script the line “You’ve sunk my battleship” by writing it into a nostalgic character who instead says: “You’re not going to sink this battleship.”

Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna try to decipher a strange reading in Battleship
Taylor Kitsch (left) and Rihanna try to decipher a strange reading in “Battleship”.
Image credit: Universal Pictures

“Battleship,” which has an estimated $209 million budget and is written by the brotherly duo Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber (also the co-writers of Bruce Willis’ “Red” and Kate Beckinsale’s “Whiteout”), makes the crackerjack move of bridging the American and Japanese naval warfare divide in a way that makes you feel like you’ve just learned the secret of the American defeat by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.

In the film’s best-scripted and best-acted moment, Tadanobu Asano as Captain Yugi Nagata befriends and co-strategizes with “John Carter” star Taylor Kitsch as the loose-cannoned Lieutenant Alex Hopper. Captain Nagata explains to the U.S. Navy how Japanese battleships have been “seeing” the Americans for decades even without radar.

Using U.S. plot data from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Japanese advise the U.S. Navy – which tries to defend against lizard-like, “Iron Man”-suited aliens – to shut off their radar and instead plot NOAA buoy data. This grid, which is conveniently shaped like boxy quadrants just like in Hasbro’s Battleship game, shows nearby water buoys.

Alien shredders prepare to obliterate their targets in Battleship
Alien shredders prepare to obliterate their targets in “Battleship”.
Image credit: ILM/Universal Pictures

Based on the principles of “water displacement” – or when nearby motion moves the buoys – the humans can see where the alien battleships are located and moving to. Then, even though firing air-strike missiles (more often used in “Battleship” than underwater torpedoes) reveal their location, the humans target quadrants – “fire on E-2!” – just like in the board game. It’s an ace scripting move that successfully adapts a board game into a believable, big-screen blockbuster film.

The film’s special effects – coupled with truly original and memorable weapons experts, environment masters, structural ship engineers and a new take on what aliens might look like – leave nothing to be desired and everything to enjoy. This time, our aliens – known as The Regents – are basically lizards who can’t stomach our sun and need hardcore sun visors and advanced, “Predator”-like targeting systems to see.

You always have the sense the humans are unprepared, understaffed and sorely outgunned with prehistoric technology. It’s human brain power – guided by wisdom from ancient Chinese military treatises from Sun Tzu such as The Art of War – that give our clunky steel a fighting chance.

An alien invader reaches for its human target in Battleship
An alien invader reaches for its human target in “Battleship”.
Image credit: ILM/Universal Pictures

The ripped Taylor Kitsch appropriately fills the film’s starring role while his more buttoned-up brother, Alexander Skarsgård (TV’s “True Blood”) as Commander Stone Hopper, attempts to whip him into shape. Former model and blonde bombshell Brooklyn Decker is formulaically scripted in as Kitsch’s U.S. Navy personal trainer girlfriend. She’s also, of course, the daughter of U.S. Navy Admiral Shane – played by the authoritative, fear-instilling Liam Neeson.

While Kitsch’s character attempts to earn his Navy stripes, his most daunting task is asking his Navy leader’s permission to marry the film’s token hot chick.

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Star More reviews from Adam Fendelman.

For director Peter Berg, whose Hollywood action resume leads with “Hancock” but pales in comparison to Michael Bay’s “Transformers,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Armageddon” and “Bad Boys,” “Battleship” proves that Berg is a worthy adversary as a blockbuster action director. “Battleship” raises hope for Berg’s upcoming “Hancock 2” following his 2008 “Hancock,” which was a critical flop but a box-office success.

“Battleship” stars Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Hamish Linklater, Peter MacNicol, John Tui, Jesse Plemons, Gregory D. Gadson, Jerry Ferrara, Adam Godley and Rico McClinton from director Peter Berg and writers Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber. The film, which has a running time of 131 minutes and opened on May 18, 2012, is rated “PG-13” for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction and for language.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Publisher
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2012 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

ukreporter's picture

Rihanna in Battleship

Obviously your hatred of any and all things Rihanna is very apparent here.Is it racist prehaps? You also seem to have that same hatred for Britney, Mariah or is it female singers and females on the whole. Your judgement seems to be clouded in hate and maybe your life is not going so right right now and you are angry at the whole universe. Maybe your wife or girlfriend hurt you or left you. You sound bitter and resentful.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Amusing reply

I typically don’t reply to replies like this, but I find this one particularly amusing. Especially because I happen to manage a female-fronted rock band. My “Battleship” review isn’t about Rihanna, but my comments there are merely about acting talent.

A's picture

rihanna

yes but did you have to say things that bad about her i dont usually go back on my defence but you could at least say she is better than britney

h2oclerk's picture

Battleship

Who cares about reviewers. Transformers sucked, but this one’s great. Clever plotting, more than adequate acting, great special effects - without that “we’ve got to make it bigger and flashier” childlike mentality, and without the cliched dialogue typical of such flicks. It may be fun once or twice to listening to constant Jeff Goldblum styled one-liners, but that gets boring and predictable. They left their characters real, and that helped the movie immensely.

No question the film gives a proud salute to the Navy, but you know what… they deserve it.

This film is maybe one small notch below “Independence Day” and only that because it could have used just a little comic relief. Seems like they tried to place a couple of one-liners, but those got lost in the pace of the action.

I’ll definitely see this again in the theater.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Agreed!

Well put. I largely agree! Except for the first part. Despite the ongoing debate, professional entertainment critics play an important role in this industry.

Navy Vet's picture

I have just recently

I have just recently seperated from the Navy in January. I have served on three aircraft carriers the USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63), USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65), most recently onboard the USS GEORGE H W BUSH (CVN 77) for its maiden deployment. As a Sailor I was honored to see how the allowed real veterans in the movie to display what we do on a daily to defend our country. I think they did a good job with the movie and honring the US Navy!

A's picture

how dare you

it is an outrage what is said about rihanna and other
singers turned actress becuase the can act when you look at
rihanna she gives a stunning performane and if all singers
should sitck to singing what about cher and diana ross,
should their movies be put in the trash becasue they are
singers i hope you think next time you review.

ziggy one of the best's picture

Battleship

very enjoyable movie glad they gave credit to the vet.

Manny be down's picture

Awesome movie

this was awesome plus we get to see the old ship that did many battle in the sea

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