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Fire away; Early reviews miss the point of summer fun

Sorry about all you cynics, sourpusses and knee-jerk scoffers out there, but I've joined the defense team for "Battleship." Let the prosecution rave and drool and hurl the ugliest and most hated epithet in summer movies at it (director Michael Bay); let them point to its decidedly unimpressive showing on Rotten Tomatoes after its European opening weeks ago.

Let me simply tell you that all I heard on the way out of the promotional screening were women I know saying "I loved it" and teen boys trying to figure out when their schedules allowed them to see it again. (And remember: the next time they'd be paying.)

So those of us on the defense team of "Battleship" need you to know a few more things: A. It is reminiscent of Bay only in the least important ways. Bay makes huge, loud, oppressive anti-movies; this is an old fashioned "movie movie" with all manner of vintage sentimentalities plus the addition of big splashy FX and CGI; B. It is enjoyable and even a bit lovable in all the ways big money summer tent-pole movies are supposed to be.

Its humbler-than-thou origins in a board game actually make for a suspenseful sequence toward the end of the movie as a ragtag bunch of Navy-types from both the U.S. and Japan combine to outwit killer alien submarines without radar. You knew going in that the movie would find a way to get the game into the movie and watching it is almost suspenseful and clever enough to be funny.

That the movie didn't exactly receive hosannas in Europe should surprise absolutely no one. This is a Super-American movie, from its opening affection for a family ne'er-do-well and screw-up who breaks into a convenience store to get a chicken burrito for a goddess he just met at a bar and desperately hopes to seduce (played by Brooklyn Decker, a woman many would no doubt feel a justification for extreme mating gestures). It pulls out all stops in its closing flag-waving inclusion of aged Naval veterans and legless Army warriors into the ranks of fighters crucial to the rescue of earth from the clutches of the astral bad guys.

Even the timid, four-eyed intellectuals join the cosmic fray before it's over.

There's no way that a Europe fighting its own battles with "austerity" budgets (which they call "American-style") would feel affection for all the innocent adolescent rebellion and sentimental flag-waving and self-righteous militarism of this movie. It would be like asking Belgian or Italian or French audiences to be happy about a sudden American invasion (where all their native cuisines are jettisoned in favor of chicken burritos).

Certified hunk Taylor Kitsch is the family screw-up in love with Decker, an impossibly beautiful woman whose Daddy just happens to be a big-shot Navy Admiral (Liam Neeson). Alexander Skarsgard plays the Navy brother of Kitsch who convinces the kid that the Navy may be his last, best chance to join the responsible world.

There's nothing remotely complicated about how this movie came to be the authentic crowd-pleaser that it seems to be (despite its wan critical reputation). The director is Peter Berg, the man who made the film "Very Bad Things" and, most importantly, was in charge of TV's "Friday Night Lights." This is a guy who knows most of the traditional places machismo and sentimentality meet in our movies and TV. He's got it down.

Yes, it's true that some of Berg's battle scenes can be as loud, imprecise and ambiguous as some of Bay's thundering idiocies, but in every other way Berg displays a genuine affection and even minimal understanding of the human species, unlike Bay's world of giant deafening toys and animatronic Barbie dolls. Look at the way Berg uses beautiful music diva Rihanna, as the movie's gunner-in-chief. That's pop cleverness to the max.

If you actually go, you'll find it traditionally blockheaded summer movie fun. As an unfortunately quotable man once said, if it doesn't fit you must acquit.

The defense rests.




3 stars (out of 4)    

STARRING: Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson    

DIRECTOR: Peter Berg    

RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes    

RATING: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language.    

THE LOWDOWN: An alien invasion turns a naval exercise in the Pacific real. Based on the venerable Hasbro board game.