Battle Los Angeles
While I never thought I could possibly make this admission, I have discovered something that I undoubtedly have in common with the neo-cons of the Bush administration, the good people who led us into the quagmire of Afghanistan and the bogus war in Iraq. I’m speaking of the film Battle Los Angeles, which I am certain that Rummy, Wolfie and Darth Vader, also known as ex-VP Cheney, will positively love, and I must admit I enjoyed despite myself in a roller coaster thrill ride way.
First and foremost, it is the cinematic equivalent of a teenage boy’s wet dream. Think of a smash mouth video game that operates as a jingoistic anthem to the American military in general and the Marines in particular. It is not a criticism to say that it serves in every respect to pay homage to our Fighting Leathernecks in a manner not seen since John Wayne starred in The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). The top military brass at the Pentagon could not have devised a better recruiting film in their wildest imagination.
Battle Los Angeles is one, gigantic adrenaline rush that is nearly devoid of character development. It’s like going to Vegas hopped up on a Red Bull and 5 Hour Energy cocktail. Various cities around the world are being colonized by an invasion of vicious aliens, and the only thing preventing the collapse of our civilization is a small band of patriotic Jarheads. While the ending is never really in doubt, the most cynical of you readers will find yourself resisting singing:
From the Halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli
We will fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land and sea.
More to the point, there are no messy sub-plots or tawdry romantic diversions. As the title of this alien slugfest would suggest, it truly is one unending battle.
At that, Director Jonathan Liebesman’s film is really little more than a composite of some of the best science fiction/horror films of the past. The alien invaders looked like those being colonized in a movie all of you should see, District Nine (2009). Their clicking vocal interaction is very similar to the villain in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic Predator (1987). The hectic, frantic urban battle landscape where death lurks around every corner is reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down (2001).
Additionally, the overall theme of an alien force threatening to destroy life on earth as we know it could have been lifted out of the classic War of the Worlds, and I’m thinking of the original one with Gene Barry made in 1953, not Spielberg’s schlocky remake starring Tom Cruise (2005). The plot involves a group of Marines led by Staff Sergeant Michael Nance (Aaron Eckert) and his Second Lieutenant, William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), sent into an alien occupied Santa Monica to try to retrieve trapped civilians. After locating a small group of people, the rest of the film is spent trying to extricate them while gradually being picked off by the alien hoards.
The children being rescued spend a great deal of time crying in terror; Bridget Monahan is largely wasted in a role as a childless middle-aged woman both mothering the children and inevitably attracted to the lantern-jawed Eckert, and Michael Pena plays the father of a small child who you just know is going to be a sacrificial lamb.
Mr. Eckert is an emerging, versatile star with undeniable screen presence. To date he has shown impressive range, playing everything from the district attorney morphing into “Two Face” in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster The Dark Knight (2008); the chef who was the love interest of a reluctant Catherine Zeta Jones in No Reservations (2007), to a shill for the tobacco industry who was shamelessly selling the benefits of cigarettes in Thank You for Smoking (2005). Here, his earnest portrayal as Staff Sergeant Nance not only saves this film from sinking into abject ridicule, but allows the audience to enjoy it if only a superficial level.
And yes, we once again see an actress that I truly like, Michelle Rodriguez, playing a gun-toting, ass-kicking military true believer as she so spectacularly played in James Cameron’s colossal Avatar . While it will be interesting to see how she eventually breaks out of being stereotyped in this role, she is one tough Latina as also reflected by a similar performance in Robert Rodriguez’s subversive Machete (2010).
So any of you who like pure action with just enough angst (i.e., credible villains, great though occasionally annoying special effects and just a few good guys dying) could do far worse than to spend a couple hours in this guilty little nonsensical pleasure. And if you think it may not be your cup of tea, go find an available teenage boy and take him, because this film will be right down his power alley.