“Battleship"is not the first major motion picture to be based on a board game — who could forget 1985’s benighted “Clue”? — but it is surely the most expensive.
With every superhero more celebrated than Amazing-Man or the Chameleon already spoken for (ditto for hot toys like Transformers), Hollywood has fallen back on popular games as likely fodder for action epics. If “Scrabble: The Movie” or “Qwirkle or Death” appears on a future marquee, don’t say you weren’t warned.
As its north-of-$200-million budget indicates, “Battleship” has been expanded considerably from its origins as a pre-World War I pencil and paper game to include a major alien invasion that puts the very fate of the human race at stake. Only the stalwartU.S. Navy stands in the way of what a nervous bureaucrat calls “an extinction event.” This may sound thrilling, but it’s not.
The infusion of all that cash notwithstanding, “Battleship” plays ordinary and pedestrian because it’s always been a job for hire, never anyone’s passion. Powerhouse toymaker Hasbro ordered up a movie based on one of its most popular games and everyone, from director Peter Berg and screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber on down, tried as hard as they could to fulfill the order. But that’s hardly a recipe for excitement.
The only person avid about anything was Berg, the son of a naval historian whose unbounded enthusiasm for all thingsU.S. Navyled to exceptional cooperation from that branch of the military.
That zeal, however, also unbalances the film, turning it into something of an earnest, two-hour infomercial that should do wonders for naval recruiting if not civilian entertainment. The invading aliens start off like gangbusters, but they end up resembling the Washington Generals of yore, fated to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters night after hopeless night.
It takes a full half hour into this overly long film before those aliens hit the screen. Until then, “Battleship” is under the illusion that its characters are completely fascinating, and it takes its time introducing us to the dramatis personae.
Front and center is Taylor Kitsch (best known for his role in Berg’s TV hit “Friday Night Lights”) playing Alex Hopper, a stubborn and hot-headed young man who’s made a habit of screwing up his life.
While his straight-arrow brother Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård) is making a career in the Navy, Alex is doing things like breaking into a closed convenience store to procure a chicken burrito to impress a hot woman he’s just met in a bar. Really.
Said woman, Sam Shane (Brooklyn Decker), just happens to be the daughter of Adm. Shane (the reliably gruff Liam Neeson), the man in charge of the entire Pacific fleet. Before you can say “anchors aweigh,” Alex not only has joined the Navy, but he’s also somehow become a lieutenant whom Sam has agreed to marry, with a catch: Alex, still a screwup, has to get the admiral to agree to the match.
While these dubious shenanigans are going on, something called the Beacon Project is playing out in the background. NASA has been beaming a signal to the universe in an attempt to make contact with presumably friendly aliens. An outerspace race does get the signal and uses it to find its way to Earth, but these aliens are anything but friendly.
In fact, these other-worldly types from Planet G leave no doubt as to their intentions by launching weapons that look like enormous fiery ball bearings intent on shredding everything in sight.
Right in their line of fire are the Pearl Harbor-based Pacific fleet vessels that the Stone boys (as well as gunner Cora Raikes, played in a pleasantly feisty debut by Rihanna) call home. Will an alien invasion that puts all of humanity at risk be enough to get Alex to finally stop screwing up? “Battleship” considers this an open question.
Though they have impressive weapons and the resources to make the journey to Earth, these humanoid aliens are as ungainly as the movie itself, clunking around in awkward, protective suits. Once revealed, their prominent chin whiskers make them look like surly Amish farmers upset at a barn-raising gone wrong.
Amish or not, in a logical world, these folks are so technologically superior that the Earth would be toast. But of course a way has to be found to give humanity a fighting chance, a way that turns out to be fully in keeping with Berg’s sentimentality about the Navy. It’s all very earnest, but it’s not a whole lot of fun.