Battle: Los Angeles (2011) / Action-Sci Fi
aka Battle: LA
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running time: 116 min.
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena, Michelle Rodriguez, Cory Hardrict, Gino Anthony Pesi, Ne-Yo, James Hiroyuki Liao, Noel Fisher, Adetokumboh M'Cormack, Bryce Cass
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Screenplay: Chris Bertolini
Battle to Stay Awake may have been a more appropriate title for this actioner that appears to be mostly conceived of either as a big budget military recruitment video or the ultimate "Demo Disc" for home theater enthusiasts to show off their high-end audio-visual equipment. Even as premise for a video game, it would be too indistinct to stand out in a sea of basic premises just like it. For nearly two hours, we watch a military unit we're barely introduced to try to survive in a variety of urban environs. As we don't really get to know these grunts, we only have the fact that they are human protectors and the aliens are the aggressors in order to root them on. While this might be enough to delineate the good guys and bad guys, at least the semblance of character development and some attempt to give nuance to a barebones plotline would have gone a long way to making this more than a sight-and-sound excursion.
Battle: Los Angeles follows one Marine platoon's attempt to defend the city of Los Angeles (or more accurately, Santa Monica) from the onslaught of a powerful and incredibly tough space alien invasion of the major cities of Earth. To make matters bleak, the aliens seem to have all of the knowledge they need to decimate humanity in mere seconds, while the humans have no knowledge of how the alien technology works, or how the alien biology keeps them alive despite the heavy blowback thrown against them, Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, No Reservations) plays Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, who finds himself at the forefront of the seemingly futile counterattack, trying to keep his unit, and some civilians he picks up along the way, from almost certain demise through an all-or-nothing stand.
Jonathan Liebesman (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Darkness Falls) delivers when it comes to the action amid the war-torn streets of Los Angeles, and had there been more presented in terms of what's at stake for the soldiers we're following individually, these scenes could have had the technological gusto to be as gripping and harrowing as they are shot. Unfortunately, outside of a few token character touches, such as a past failed mission for Nantz that resulted in the death of the brother one of his current men under his command, we don't get that sense of history to the characters to tie us in to their hopes and fears. We're only offered clichés and stock stereotypes before we're whisked into the middle of nearly incessant action sequences. Meanwhile, major carnage is wreaked across the Los Angeles landscape (this could have been called Battle: La. due to its having been shot mostly in the state of Louisiana for budget/taxes reasons) , and many other major metropolitan areas around the world, and it barely registers in terms of shock or awe in the audience looking to be wowed in their seats.
Flinging special effects shots of alien spacecraft bombing buildings and shaky-cam confusion to the soldiers on the ground just isn't enough of a story to keep a nearly two-hour film afloat, and not long after the film starts does it run out of anything but the most basic ideas on what to do with its characters and where they should go. Surely, watching heroic deed after heroic deed on display will make anyone proud at what the men and women in uniform must perform in serving a noble cause as the defense of humanity, but we can only admire it from an emotional distance the same way that watching war footage from any filmed battle would -- perhaps even less so here due to its obvious artifice. The fact that the military is fighting aliens is almost a gimmick, as the intensely noisy and destructive scenes of military operations on the ground are nearly identical to other films without a science fiction premise to drive up the special effects quotient.
Battle: Los Angeles is an alien invasion film as generic as its title, featuring generic actors playing generic characters fighting generic aliens across generic urban settings in generic ways. Only a whiff of humor and even less memorable human interaction beyond military speak leads to even less for audiences to be entertained by in between non-descript assaults. If you want to see this same premise done with human interest, see War of the Worlds, or with a sense of personality and inventiveness, watch District 9; the prior existence of these well-known films has already made a standard film like Battle: LA obsolete.
©2011 Vince Leo