It doesn’t sink

Naval battleships vs. alien space ships is more fun than it should be

We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Starring Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker and Rihanna. Directed by Peter Berg. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

See that popcorn box picture down there? It’s sort of the look I get on my face when someone I don’t know is talking at me and I’m not quite getting what they’re going on about. Sometimes I’ll throw in a nod or two. Maybe a chuckle if it feels appropriate.

That’s how I look at a film like Battleship, caught halfway between horror and fascination, with no idea what it’s going on about.

Battleship is a $200 million advertisement for a plastic toy, basically adapted from a pencil-’n’-paper guessing game. And so we get a basic story too: After a meet-cute with the skanky daughter (Brooklyn Decker) of a barking naval commander played by Liam Neeson, a total loser (Taylor Kitsch) mans up and joins the Navy. With his brother’s help, he manages to work his way up the chain of command while remaining a screw-up. Oh, and he continues doing the commander’s daughter along the way.

But he gets his shot at redemption when the fleet sets out on some big Navy exercise and navies sail in from all over the world to join the wild rumpus. If you’ve seen the ads, you know where this is going: Next come the aliens and the explosions.

The characters are excruciating but not boring—just anonymous. Like the characters in a splatter flick where you’re supposed to cheer with each one’s demise. But instead, here we get some narrative dancing that leads them from being loathsome to heroic. Give the actors credit—it took some work in the end.

Throw in some pimping from the United States Navy in return for letting the film serve double duty as a recruitment video. (That must have been fun, playing around with the Navy.) And the Navy gets its resources’ worth, as the ships look shiny and badass as we go about saving the world.

Director Peter Berg has gone from the jagged edges of Very Bad Things to being a fairly polished Hollywood stone, and here he’s delivered one very polished two-hour commercial. You get the vibe someone handed him a check and said, “Gimme a Michael Bay movie.” And Berg looked at all the zeros and said, “Okay.” Not that that’s a bad thing. (I’m sure it was a lot of zeros.) And this is much more visually cohesive than a Michael Bay movie.

Writers Erich and Jon Hoeber also deserve some credit for floating a narrative out of the basic board game, managing to incorporate the iconic aspects of the game into the mix, while laying down with a subtext involving the nature of games and adding some nice touches regarding disabled vets and forgotten war relics. That bumps this up a notch.

But still, is it now acceptable that we pay to sit down and watch Product Placement: The Movie? The mind sorta boggles. But getting boggled can be fun. And it’s a pretty cool feature-length commercial. And Rihanna does a spunky job. Maybe I’ll download some of her music.