Movie Times Vault

Battle: Los Angeles


by Richard von Busack
Like alcohol, this movie is taken as a stimulant, but the depressive qualities overwhelm that buzz pronto. It's a major sedative to another cheated lulls, despite the (at least) 1500 edits, and the furious yet substandard pixel wrangling against the usual clam-chowder colored cityscapes.

Just as he tries to get out, they drag him back in. The deal is that the aliens have invaded just as Camp Pendleton based  S/Sgt Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has made the momentous decision to leave the Marines, just as soon as he's got his most recent batch of men trained.  The film flickers around to throw up some backstorying some of his fellow Marines...the Courtney Vance guy, the toothpick-spined shavetail, the Nick Cannon guy, the shell-shocked guy, the one who has a pregnant wife...all of whom will be scooped up into helicopters when it's time to fight the aliens.

They attack at dawn, next to Santa Monica pier. Motiveless and brainless, these tripod creatures (thanks, War of the Worlds) flew here in interstellar craft. Yet they have all kinds of trouble coordinating their air support. Their invasion strategy is secondary to a human tale of redemption. Nantz supposedly needs to redeem himself for losing some men in Iraq.

The Santa Monica airport (formerly called "Clover Field" by the way, not to recall a better alien-invasion movie) is secured by the troops who have decided to hold the line on Lincoln Blvd. Caught behind the lines, Nantz' Marines fight their way out house to house, or rather crappy little Venice bungalow to bungalow. I've never seen LA get creamed with such a lack of visual imagination, or so little irony at the pomp of a great city being tamed.

After a spot of alien vivesection, the Marines commander an RTD bus to escape. The aliens, in silhouette something like Aquaman villain Black Manta, fire blindly, chirruping like defective automatic dishwashers. They have little in the way of brains. They must have: they came light years for no good reason. A scientist on TV explains one possible reason why they've attacked...

To make an analogy, why haven't earthlings flown to Titan to get all that sweet, sweet natural gas? Could it be you'd use too much power to make the trip worth while? The problem with aliens in this kind of movie is that they have the same terrible economies of scale as the motion picture industry itself.

What is Battle: Los Angeles' saddest moment? The product placement for Procter and Gamble, consisting of a box of Tide detergent spilling over one Marine? Is it Michelle Rodriguez as an Air Force pilot saying, “I didn’t get here because I’m a pretty face"? Obviously not, when she falls 60 feet out of a helicopter and doesn’t get anything more than a scratch. Is it the moment where we hear some wad of exposition followed by a Leslie Nielsenish "None of this matters right now"?

No, it's the point where Staff Sergeant Nantz is commended for doing "some real John Wayne shit," which is followed by younger Marine asking, “Who’s John Wayne?”.

Cinematically speaking, Battle: Los Angeles is ploughing the ground with salt. It's another stage in the transformation of cinema to gamer-crap. But in mentioning Wayne, it’s obviously superstitious enough to throw some of that salt over its shoulder.

Incidentally, the production company name is “Original Film”. It is to laugh.