Sunday, October 16, 2011

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES (2011) - Review

I guess alien invasion movies are back in style. 2011 was a good year for extra-terrestrials, with "Super 8", "Cowboys & Aliens", or the recent "The Thing" prequel being released. It's hard not to feel a bit nostalgic about the good old days, when Spielberg's "E.T." was touching the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide and, many years later, Roland Emmerich's "Independence Day" was blowing them away. Somehow, I can't shake the feeling that while today's technology allows the scope of the action to be a lot bigger, they're also making these movies a lot less convincing than they were back then.

Such is the case with "Battle: Los Angeles", a movie that attempts to be realistic, but ends up being anything but that. The filmmakers choose to portray the alien invasion strictly from the point of view of a platoon of marines fighting off the extra-terrestrials on the streets of Los Angeles. The unit, led by 2nd Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is sent in to rescue civillians trapped inside a police station, a mission that will prove to be far more difficult than anticipated. Assisting the young lieutenant is the battle-hardened Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), who was planning to retire, before the invasion began. And, because Nantz is played by a star, you know he'll be the one leading the platoon, eventually.

The movie is exhausting. I know the point of the whole queasy-cam style is to make you feel like you're right there, running with the marines, but it becomes too much when it's used in chaotic battles that depend heavily on visual effects. You get the look of realism, but you lose content coherence. The whole thing is so hectic you can hardly focus your eyes on anything, which, in a way, is probably the point. It's possible it was meant to hide some shoddy looking CGI, because with the constant camera shaking and choppy editing you can hardly see anything. The whole thing feels out of place in an alien invasion movie. It's "Black Hawk Down" with aliens, but the filmmakers try too hard to achieve that effect and it falls apart.

Otherwise, it's a decent action flick. You have your military gung-ho-ism and the usual bravery and sacrifice in the line of fire themes that are played out to the point where you start tasting the cliches. If you thought "Independence Day" was cheesy, you have another thing coming. Ekhart pulls off a convincing action hero, complete with a dark past weighing heavily on his warrior shoulders. The supporting cast is okay, too, but you don't exactly care for these characters, which is especially required, because when they starts dying, you should care, right ? You can at most sympathise with their situation, but that's about it. At some point, you'll realize they're almost as artificial as the aliens they're fighting.

I know comparisons with "Independence Day" might not be fair, but they're inevitable. Although this movie wastes less time with endless exposition, its attempts to be a non-stop action movie fall short because you won't find any spectacular set-pieces like "ID4" had. It's mostly close-quarter battles here. The first moments of the alien landings are shown via news footage, the aliens themselves are strange, but not intriguing and the invasion seems to have no clear objective other than to gun-down marines. And if the aliens are so well superior in terms of technology, why do they need to fight us in the streets and hide in our sewers, when they could just beam down some heavy ass-kicking. It just feels like a lot of noise about nothing

Still, if you enjoy gritty military action, and the thought of having aliens added to the mix gives you enormous joy, this is a serviceable sci-fi actioner. The though of a sequel has probably crossed the filmmaker's minds, and they do have a big world to work with, so the next "Battle: ..." movie might take place anywhere. Whenever they decide to make it, though, I just hope they'll have a budget big enough to afford steadycams.

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