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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Battleship


U.S.: Peter Berg, 2012

It ain’t me. It ain’t me. I ain’t no fortunate one.

John Fogerty

Battleship? Maybe it’ll make a lot of money; maybe it won’t. (It’s a disappointment, so far.) But the idea of spending of two hundred million dollars and change to try to adapt a Hasbro board or video game (called “Battleship,” of course) into a huge would-be blockbuster war-action movie (likewise Battleship) toplining TV star Taylor Kitsch (“Friday Night Lights,”  John Carter) , and swimsuit model and would-be movie star Brooklyn Decker (What to Expect When You‘re Expecting), struck me as an astoundingly silly waste of time, sight unseen.

Sight seen, it’s even worse.

Punishingly loud, choked with absurdities and screamingly overproduced, Battleship shows, once again, that big, dumb, loud movies with what are regarded as “surefire” commercial tie-ins are way too much a feature of our film landscape. The movie has some good stuff every now and then, and it’s “state-of-the-art” in some ways, I suppose. It’s chockful of up-to-the-moment CGI of extraterrestrial monsters and their space ships and ocean fortresses, destroying everything they can. But it’s also nonsensical and stuffed with clichés — possibly thanks to writers Erich and Jon Hoeber (Red), possibly not.

The inanities attack almost immediately, before the monsters even arrive on earth. (Their hangout is a distant world dubbed Planet G by Terran scientists ). Kitsch, as rebel-without-a-clue Alex Hopper, is out drinking with his straighter-than-straight-arrow Navy Commander brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), when he spots a tall blonde hottie in a bar, having troubles with the bartender (Louis Lombardi), who refuses to microwave her a chicken burrito.

Gallantly, Alex rushes out to get her said burrito, which he does by breaking into a nearby convenience store, tearing up the ceiling, stealing and (I presume) microwaving a chicken burrito and then resisting arrest, a feat of insane derring-do that so impresses the hottie, Samantha Shane (Decker) that she falls madly in love with Alex.  Samantha, incidentally, turns out to be the daughter of Stone’s boss, Admiral Shane, the commander of the entire Pacific Fleet (played by Liam Neeson).

What next? Older Brother Stone somehow wangles his black sheep sibling a commission as lieutenant in his Hawaii bailiwick. What happened to the charges of burrito theft, reckless micro-waving and ceiling vandalism is anybody’s guess. (By the way, to dispel any confusion brought about by the last paragraph, Liam Neeson is cast here as Admiral Shane, Samantha’s daddy, and not the entire Pacific Fleet — though I’m sure he could do either, or both, as long as he had Battleship‘s entire CGI staff.)

If all of that sounds pretty stupid, believe me, you ain’t seen (or heard) nothin’ yet. Somehow, all these people wind up in Oahu, near Pearl Harbor, where the U.S. and both Hopper brothers are on ships in the middle of war games with the Japanese Navy (commanded by Japanese star Tadanogo Asano, as intrepid Captain Yuginagata), with crews that include saucy pop star Rihanna as Petty Officer Cora “Weps” Raikes and Kitsch‘s witty “Friday Night Lights“ castmate Jesse Plemons as Boatswain Seaman Jimmy “Ordy” Ord. On shore, Samantha keeps ragging Alex about getting permission for their marriage from her dad, the Admiral, something that seems to paralyze the guy. (One thing the script is good at, by the way, is dreaming up names.)

Dr. Nogrady. Cal Zapata. Chef Petty Officer Walter “The Beast” Lynch. Chief Engineer Hiroki. Uh-oh. Suddenly the monsters — humanoid types with evil eyes and goatees, dressed up in Transformers-style robot garb — show up in their flying zingies and ocean fortress, decimating Hong Kong (Jackie Chan was busy elsewhere) and throwing up a force field around themselves and the three ships near Pearl, thereby preventing any nuke attacks. As the Hopper bothers and their colorful crews try to figure out what to do — Alex, though so shy with the Admiral, thinks nothing of cruising up to the monster’s fortress in a speedboat, hopping aboard and knocking on it — things get more complicated ashore.

Everybody is fleeing. Samantha, no less, has forsaken her bikini and is racing around the mountain roads, with nerdy radio man Cal Zapata (Hamish Linklater) and courageous double amputee Lt. Col. Mick Canales (played by real-life Iraq War hero Gregory D. Gardson). Both on sea and on land, things get worse and more and more things get blown up. (“I’ve got a bad feeling.“ Alex says, in classic understatement.) The Secretary of Defense (Peter MacNicol) keeps having fits in the war room. President Obama shows up on the TV news (MSNBC, naturally), looking worried. Does this prove that we should have signed a non-aggression pact with Planet G? Or should it be cut from the budget? Anyway, Viva Zapata! Included in all this is a tribute to America‘s past glories and the U.S.S. Missouri — a touch I rather liked, even if it didn’t make much more sense here than anything else.

I’d synopsize some more, but I don’t want to stray accidentally into Spoiler Alert territory, and, to tell the truth, I feel like an idiot repeating all this. (No amens please.)

The story may be ridiculous, the sound track deafening, and most of the actors may look trapped, but the effects, as usual, blow you out of your seats — and you may want to stay there, especially if the theatre has a good concession stand with gourmet pretzels and hot dogs. You’ll want to get back in time for Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” playing under the end-titles, though — the one time I didn’t mind the movie’s outrageous loudness and also something that convinced me that Berg (or whoever picked it) is a good guy at heart. And the picture is very lucky to have Gregory Gardson, since he gives the show some dignity it might otherwise lack.

But even by the standards set by all the loud, dumb action movies of the past, Battleship strikes into new, louder, dumber territory. Director Berg, who is usually good at macho stuff, but seems better working with a smaller canvas like Friday Night Lights, can’t seem to make much sense of any of this either. And why should he, since the whole movie might as wwell be nothing more than an advertisement for the Hasbro board or video game, while the board games now function as ads for the movie, and Taylor Kitsch and Brooklyn Decker function as ads for the U.S. Navy. And vice versa maybe.

Incidentally, for U. S. Navy recruiting movies,I prefer sailors Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin in On the Town. And I ain’t no fortunate son, either.

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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: Battleship”

  1. PH says:

    Why would Universal bother paying rights fees to Hasbro when the title, “Battleship,” was readily available and the game has nothing to do with the movie?


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon