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Battleship: Film Review

Rihanna
Universal Pictures

The Bottom Line

An effects-laden extravaganza with as much weight as sea spray.

Opens

April 12, Austrailia; May 18, U.S. (Universal)

Cast

Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson

Director

Peter Berg

Universal's noisy alien-invasion tentpole plays like just-add-water "Transformers."

The grid-based board game that provides the jumping-off point for this extravagantly noisy spectacle is not known for its narrative thrust, and neither is Battleship particularly interested in story.

At once silly and overly ponderous, it is a long-winded exercise in cartoonish war games pitting a splinter section of the U.S. Navy against invading aliens -- a sort of just-add-water Transformers. But those looking for big, loud sci-fi action will find plenty to like here as director Peter Berg (Hancock, Friday Night Lights) pumps up the volume on clashing military hardware and flag-waving heroics. The Universal release should open strongly in international markets and gather steam heading into its U.S. release on May 18.

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A rather niftily engineered sequence midway through Battleship references the board game owned by Hasbro, the company that’s already made millions from its Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises. It’s a rare offering of wit from screenwriting brothers Erich and Jon Hoeber (RED), who otherwise ensure the impressive visual effects and Berg’s epic set pieces fight against an armada of cinematic clichés and some truly awful dialogue.

“Let’s see if we can buy the world another day!” is one veteran soldier’s rallying cry, while elsewhere Taylor Kitsch’s maverick hero weathers a half-hour barrage of alien strikes before muttering, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Risible, yes. But who could expect more from the one-dimensional characters Berg moves around on the board -- sorry, screen -- as they shout to be heard above the clank and screech of metal and Steve Jablonsky’s blaring score. At least no one’s taking things too seriously, with pop star Rihanna seemingly having the most fun as a plucky weapons specialist who scampers about the USS John Paul Jones making things go boom.

VIDEO: 'Battleship' Trailer

The ship is one of three left stranded inside a force field after a fleet of gigantic alien spaceships interrupts a routine exercise between Japanese and American sailors off the coast of Hawaii.

The extraterrestrials have been summoned by an exploratory signal sent into the depths of space, and although the bristly bearded creatures come across as more curious than overtly hostile, a trigger-happy Navy engages and enters the fray.

Alex Hopper (Kitsch) is the loose-cannon lieutenant suddenly charged with saving the world from what one character solemnly dubs “an extinction-level threat.” He’s a formerly long-haired slacker who has cleaned up his act and joined the Navy after an ultimatum from his straitlaced captain brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgard).

Alex is still hot-headed, though, which gets him in trouble with grouchy Admiral Crane (Liam Neeson in a paycheck role), the father of his lissom fiancee, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker). Samantha is a physical therapist who has her own role to play in saving the world from destruction: Back on shore, she teams up with a double-amputee war hero (real-life Iraq veteran Gregory D. Gadson) and a comic-relief communications nerd (Hamish Linklater) to prevent the ETs from phoning home.

Kitsch, coming off the super-flop John Carter, soft-pedals the charm, exuding just enough charisma to get by. The striking-looking Skarsgard (True Blood) is ramrod-straight and impossibly grave throughout, while Decker’s expression toggles between blank and very blank.        

There’s much to admire in the enthusiasm and craft Berg brings to the action, but in the wake of the Transformers movies’ success, the look is obviously funneled through a Michael Bay-shaped aperture.

Production company: BluegrassFilms/Film 44
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Hamish Linklater
Director: Peter Berg
Screenwriters: Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber
Producers: Brian Goldner, Scott Stuber, Peter Berg, Sarah Aubrey, Duncan Henderson, Bennett Schneir
Executive producers: Jonathan Mone, Braden Aftergood
Co-producer: Todd Arnow
Director of photography: Tobias Schliessler
Production designer: Neil Spisak
Costume designer: Louise Mingenbach
Music: Steve Jablonsky
Editors: Colby Parker Jr., Billy Rich, Paul Rubell
Rated PG-13, 131 minutes

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