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Monday, March 14, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles (Release Date: 3-11-2011)

        Los Angeles has a pretty tough time on the big screen. Whether it be Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich, the city that spawns just about every movie career out there is constantly rewarded by being leveled, invaded, and generally dominated by everything that a blood-thirsty director can dream up. With Hollywood pummeling the world with Aliens/Monsters/Disasters on the regular, it seems a bit curious that the destruction is so concentrated between two cities (New York and L.A.). But here we are again, a little less than a year removed from Skyline's irrefutable failure, watching the martians have their way with the city of angles.

         Having finally had it with the wear and tear of Marine life, Staff Sargent Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has filed the papers, and requested his release. Unfortunately for him, Los Angeles finds itself in trouble on the very day of his retirement, and he is thrown into action to assist in the evacuation of Los Angeles in the face of an impending meteor threat. Within moments of meeting the men with whom he will serve, Nantz and the boys discover that their foe might just be animate, and hostile at that. Confused and frightened expressions on their faces, the boys are flown in via helicopter, and forced to fight an enemy they never could have anticipated.

        The first step in making this sort of widespread disaster movie is figuring out how to distinguish yourself, and Battle: Los Angeles has a pretty interesting solution. Unlike every other Alien Invasion flick known to man, B:LA is a war movie first, skimping on the sightings of other-worldly visitors in favor of intense, on-the-ground action sequences. I won't be the first or the last to compare its line-of-fire visuals and style to Black Hawk Down, confusion and hand-held camera footage running amuck at every opportunity. Director Jonathan Liebesman knows just how create these scenes, about an hour and a half of the movie's two hour runtime being devoted to expertly staged segments of war mania, all believably rendered on the urban streets of Los Angeles.

        That's what the movie does right, and seeing as this accomplishment makes up the vast majority of the film, I feel compelled to give Battle: Los Angeles at least a somewhat favorable grade. What's holding me back from giving it a higher one is... well, everything else. To say that the movie is riddled with cliches would be like calling nachos cheesy. Writer Christopher Bertolini has somehow found a way to fit each and every single war movie touchstone into just one feature-length film. You wanted about seven rousing, mid-battle speeches? You've got 'em. Hankering for a father desperate to save his son (Michael Peña)? This is your flick! Kinda bummed about not seeing anyone enter the line of fire while his wife is pregnant back at home for a little while? Break your dry spell right here! I would suggest a drinking game inspired by every moment that B:LA drums up another cliche, but I'm not really looking to have any alcohol poisoning related deaths on my hands.

        The acting is fine, I guess, not that it really matters when such eye-rolling material is coming out of their mouths. Eckhart proves a serviceable hero, Ne-Yo doesn't embarrass himself in his transition from pop to film star, and Michelle Rodriguez plays the only character she knows, this time with quite a bit more clothing. Battle: Los Angeles plays like a mash-up of any number of movies that you've already seen (Cloverfield, District 9, War of the Worlds) with a a whole lot of Marine Recruiting Commercial thrown in for good measure. As a fan of both the big and the spectacular, I found myself enjoying it while it was on the screen, though a more disposable movie would be hard to find. 

Grade: C+

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