Battle: Los Angeles ✮✮✮
by Glenn Lovell
“Battle: Los Angeles” is lock-and-load sci-fi — “Full Metal Jacket” meets “War of the Worlds.”
It’s a strictly by-the-manual genre entry that will bring a smile to James “T2” Cameron’s face. Nasty aliens? Check. Military jargon such as “Hostiles at 12 o’clock” and “I’m ready for payback”? Check. Outrageous feats of valor behind enemy lines? Check.
Hewing to the formulaic, Michael Bay protégé Jonathan Liebesman (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”) gets the job done. He starts at mid-gallop with the world at war, flashes back to the alien splashdowns off the coast of California, and then counts down to Armageddon. And even as the macho declarations and the hazardous sorties begin to mount, Liebesman never lets up. His pacing is hellacious, which keeps us in the zap-‘em-before-they-zap-us firefight throughout.
“We have an infestation of God-knows-what,” a commander stammers. “They are not of this Earth.”
And they’re definitely not the benign variety that comes in peace. They arrive in giant metallic motherships that break into drones and gunships. They’re robotic-looking but mollusk-squishy inside. Some are your Gort-like sentinels; others have tentacles and hover above the ground, inspired perhaps by the Classics Illustrated adaptation of Wells’ “War of the World.”
What’s their business here? To eradicate rather than colonize. They’ve come for our water.
Taking their cue from such war classics as “The Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Wake Island,” Liebesman and screenwriter Christopher Bertolini focus on a Marine platoon at Camp Pendleton made up of such resilient types as the grim short-timer (Aaron Eckhart), the lovesick corporal (Gino Anthony Pesi) and his best friend (Jason Lockett), the nervous kid (Noel Fisher), the immigrant with big plans following his stint (Ne-Yo), and the green lieutenant (Ramon Rodriguez). They’re joined mid-fight by an Air Force sergeant (Michelle Rodriguez), a civilian (Michael Pena) and his two kids, and a pretty veterinarian (Bridget Moynahan), who comes in handy during an improv alien autopsy.
Staff Sergeant Nantz (Eckhart) and the 1st Platoon’s mission is to evacuate several blocks of Santa Monica before an air strike. They have three hours. They go block by block, house by house, ducking into a police station and other bombed-out structures. En route, the hotdog corporal does hotdog things, the untested lieutenant learns humility, and the sergeant rumored to have abandoned his men in Afghanistan earns the respect of his new platoon. Oh, yes, and there’s the obligatory flag-waving, reminder that these guys are fighting for God, country and freedom.
What makes “Battle: L.A.” so effective is its single-mindedness. It lays out a basic plan of action and pursues it without a moment’s hesitation. Yeah, it’s corny and predictable. But that’s all part of the drill. Liebesman wades into battle like a hardened vet, wielding his handheld digital camera so effectively you’ll flash on the jerky POVs of “The Hurt Locker” and “Saving Private Ryan.”
Where “Battle: L.A.” misses the mark is in the black comedy department. With his square jaw set, Nantz tells an orphaned kid, “I need you to be my little Marine.” The director of “District 9,” easily the best sci-fi film of last 20 years, would have played the moment for giggles … and revisited it in the end with an alien snapping a salute to its brothers-in-arms.
The better laugh, of course, is that L.A. becomes the last line of defense for humankind. Talk about Hollywood-centric!
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES ✮✮✮ Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriquez, Ne-Yo, Michelle Rodriquez, Bridget Moynahan. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman; scripted by Christopher Bertolini . 116 min. PG-13 (for profanity, battle carnage, gory makeup effects)