Everything but the Kitsch gon sink

Thursday April 12th 2012

For a while it seemed as though Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgård and Rihanna might never co-star in a tentpole studio release, but then along came Battleship, Universal’s $200million adaptation of the 1931 pad-and-pencil game Broadsides, the Game of Naval Strategy. It’s the first movie since Jonathan Lynn’s bizarre 1985 Cluedo adaptation Clue to be based on a board game, and to answer your question:

Taylor Kitsch (2012’s answer to Sam Worthington) plays Alex Hopper, a plucky burnout who joins the Navy in a bid to get his life back on track and win over the girl of his dreams, a largely characterless Brooklyn Decker (2012’s answer to Megan Fox). He soon rises up the ranks to become a lieutenant, and is invited to participate in the world’s largest maritime exercise — a biennial event called RIMPAC, which is obviously hilarious.

An alien invasion soon follows and thanks to the invisible force field that encloses the extraterrestrial ship and its surrounding ocean, only the RIMPAC seamen (HAHAHA) can save the day. Over the course of two hours, the plot contrives to have this showdown take the form of a lovely game of Battleship, with lots of implausible “fire on D9!” dialogue thrown in for nostalgia yuks.

Despite this, Battleship never really feels like an advert for Hasbro, perhaps because it feels so much like a recruitment video for the United States Navy. Every frame of the film is so breathtakingly gung-ho that the Transformers franchise starts to look like some sort of subtle disarmament parable. In fact, literally the only character in Battleship who isn’t in some way involved with the military is a pathetic, impotent scientist named Cal, played by Hamish Linklater as an even weedier version of his character from The Future. And of course, when the whole alien invasion turns out to be SCIENCE’S FAULT, it’s up to the Navy to come to the rescue of those eggheaded pansies. Wooo! Let’s bomb some shit! Down with evolution!

On a visual level, Battleship is yet another victory for scale over substance. Most of the effects shots are so complex and protracted that they’re little more than unintelligible tangles of water and steel, washing over the audience in a wave of vague expense. But where the film does succeed, albeit briefly, is in bringing the LOLs — sometimes intentionally (as in the film’s hilariously oddball final twist) but more often entirely by accident.