Dir: Jonathan Liebesman
Boom! Bang! Ratatat! "WE'RE NOT DYING HERE!" Boom! Bang! Boom! "GET THIS TO MY WIFE!" Ratatat! Bang! Boom! "RANDOM MILITARY FILM CLICHE!" Oh dear God, Battle: LA is awful.
I can deal with movies not working, there's so much to get right that it's inevitable that most of the time some things will work better than others, that the odd bad line, or shoddy performance, will slip through. That's fine. What I object to is when I get the sense that nobody working on a film cares about even trying to make it good, and that's how I felt while watching this one.
Battle: LA isn't just bad, it's inept, at any level you care to name it's just about unwatchable, budget really is all that separates it from a shitty DTV movie shot in someone's back yard. My problem in itemising its failings is really with knowing where to begin. Well, let's begin where filmmakers should begin; the script. I understand that true originality is astonishingly rare, that finding a totally new story at this point in history is all but impossible, but that's no excuse for doing something like this. The script on show here (which, one suspects, ran to about 15 pages with blanks filled in by the phrase 'stuff go boom now') is an abysmal cut and paste job, apparently assembled by a computer programmed to put together all the most hackneyed clichés of both alien invasion and the military action genres.
The film opens with about 20 minutes of the most hackneyed and perfunctory excuses for character development you'll ever see. We meet Aaron Eckhart (playing a 20 year veteran of the marines, who is just about to retire) and then the soldiers he's going to end up leading, and I'm not going to pretend, I don't know who any of them are and couldn't tell you which of them died. One guy is black, wears glasses and is getting married, by this film's standards he's a rounded character. Another is young (ooh, deep), another apparently has some form of PTSD, well, for five minutes anyway. The rest don't even have traits, let alone personalities, they hold guns and bark largely unintelligible things at one another as stuff goes boom. A little later Michelle Rodriguez comes into the action, when she's asked if she can use her gun she says "I didn't get here on my good looks"; a line that rather lacks the usual intended irony coming from a woman who looks like Michelle Rodriguez.
Stupid dialogue abounds (few lines are dumber than Bridget Moynahan's offer to help dissect an Alien because "I'm a veterinarian") and so it's hard to blame the actors for being terrible, but terrible they most certainly are. Thankfully most of them are so forgettable that it probably won't hurt their careers much, but while you're watching them these are MST3K levels of actorly ineptitude. Only Aaron Eckhart, a great actor, even attempts to rise above, but he's crippled by a script so totally broken that God himself couldn't give a decent performance in it.
What makes Battle: LA such an incredible trial to sit through isn't, at the end of the day, the acting or the script, it's the direction; the hideous, hideous direction. I'm going to start a charity drive, I'm now accepting donations to buy EVERY film unit in Hollywood a tripod. PUT THE FUCKING CAMERA DOWN! I liked The Bourne Identity, and even The Bourne Supremacy, but what has followed in their wake; the increasing dominance of this ugly, boring, nonsensical 'shakycam' style is threatening to destroy action cinema as I know and love it. Battle: LA's action scenes (and there are a lot of them) make absolutely no sense. The shakycam style is so bitty and indistinct that all sense of the geography of the scene is thrown out of the window. This also takes any tension (that hasn't already gone because you don't know who any of the characters are) out of the scene, because you don't know where the threat comes from, or the spatial relationships of one character to the next unless they are in the same frame. I'm all for equal working rights, but I'm really not sure that a constantly fitting epileptic is the best choice for the role of camera operator and focus puller.
This isn't to say that the rest of the film makes sense. Cuts between locations often threw me ('how'd they get there so fast?'), and in the final scenes there is an 'it's night... now it's day' moment that Ed Wood would have been proud of. Battle: LA is abysmal; ineptly written, acted and shot, boring, stupid, annoying and basically unwatchable. If you go and see it (don't, for the love of all that is holy, don't) please don't say I didn't warn you.