There’s very little that separates Peter Berg’s noisy, militaristic “Battleship” from the Michael Bay “Transformers” franchise, right down to the toy company (Hasbro) that inspired both.
In fact, for the first hour it’s hard to discern whether “Battleship” is a campy take on the bombast of Bay’s brand of filmmaking, or just bombastic.
I’m all for camp, but this film — starring “John Carter” lead Taylor Kitsch as a rowdy low-life turned Navy recruit — makes it very difficult to tell if it’s offering the audience a knowing wink until the film is already half over, at which point you’ve been lulled into believing it’s every bit as insipid as the films it emulates.
There’s the requisite exposition that lets us know there was a major government project to make contact with Planet G, an Earth-like mass that could support life.
“This could be like Columbus and the Indians,” cautiously opines Cal (Hamish Linklater), the scraggily bearded, often paranoid astronomer. “Except we’re the Indians.” (Linklater’s character, to his credit, is just different enough from Jeff Goldblum’s “Independence Day” character to not make us immediately think he’s a carbon copy of Goldblum’s character in “Independence Day.”)
Cal’s network of deep-space satellites dot the hills of Oahu, where down on the street level Kitsch’s ne’er-do-well Alex Hopper is celebrating his birthday with his Navy officer brother Stone (played by Alexander Skarsgard).
It’s a surprisingly effective entry into the standard world-is-ending alien invasion story to come, as the ever-impulsive Alex uses his birthday wish to pursue the blonde bombshell at the bar, Sam (Brooklyn Decker), who just happens to be the admiral’s daughter. Berg puts a fun spin on found footage with security camera images of Alex breaking into a closed convenience store to fetch a chicken burrito for his newfound love interest.
Needless to say, the microwaveable-grub heist doesn’t go well, pushing Stone to recruit his younger brother into the Navy. Soon enough, the Brothers Hopper are helping the story set sail under the guise of RIMPAC, a joint U.S.-Japanese naval exercise that promises to be one of the younger Hopper’s last after one too many run-ins with the top brass for misbehavior.
Thankfully for him, those pesky extraterrestrials from Planet G decide it’s the perfect time to pay our planet a visit. Looking like characters from the video game “Halo,” the aliens wreck a good portion of Hong Kong and the RIMPAC fleet with their bombs and whirring, razor-like spheres of doom.
The one thing “Transformers” got right that “Battleship” cannot is a legitimate sense of physics. Whereas the extinction-level destruction in Bay’s films always seem proportionate to the bots dishing it the mayhem, “Battleship” seems contrived (purposefully so, one might argue) as the alien ships bounce around the water like a frog hopping from one lily pad to another — yet without any tsunami-style water displacement that you’d expect from these massive machines slamming into the ocean.
Breaking up the action is a decent subplot featuring Sam (who we learn is a physical therapist) working with wounded soldiers, specifically a double amputee played by real-life veteran Gregory D. Gadson.
Rounding out the cast are:
— Liam Neeson as Sam’s admiral father who really doesn’t do anything in the way of military leadership other than demand to make contact with whatever ship the Hoppers are on at any given moment;
— Rihanna as All-Purpose Supporting Female, who is trained to read sonar, operate heavy weaponry against an alien army and be ready with a clever line at half a moment’s notice;
— Tadanobu Asano, taking a break from his usual string of acclaimed foreign-language roles (you should know him from “Zatoichi,” “Mongol” and “Bright Future”) to do another big-budget Hollywood film (you probably remember him as Hogun in 2011’s “Thor”).
Going into the film, I definitely wanted to see how they ended up incorporating the actual board game into the film. As silly and preposterous as this plot device is, at least they tried.
Somewhere between the AC/DC songs and the Steve Stevens-inspired guitar touches, provided by none other than Tom Morello, one of the characters proudly jabbers, “Ain’t no way they’re gonna sink this battleship!” And you know what? That catchphrase-spewing character was right. In a world of absolutely crummy action and sci-fi films forced on the masses, this one scored redeeming value once I decided I could laugh with it (Even though it’s certainly dumb enough to warrant laughing at it). “Battleship” also has the bonus of not hopping on the 3D bandwagon, although there are plenty of tell-tale moments you know the filmmakers envisioned for post-converting a dimensional addition.
Having said that, you probably should wait for “Battleship” to arrive on video to witness just how so-bad-it’s-good it truly is.
“Battleship” is rated PG-13 for violence, action and language. Running time: 131 minutes. Two stars out of four.