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'Battle: Los Angeles' delves into the heart of the alien attack. But does it have anything else going for it?

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 Battle: Los Angeles photo courtesy of Sony.

 Battle: Los Angeles is Cloverfield meets Independence Day. It’s the official shaky cam alien invasion film none of us were waiting for. Take Dramamine before entering, because although some of the action is visceral, this empty video game experience is ultimately queasy.

Jonathan Liebesman’s science fiction war picture wastes no time with subplots, characterization and dialogue, literally throwing the viewer into a brief opening battle sequence before turning back the clock pre-destruction. There is some brief exposition and hooey involving meteors crashing to earth but not much effort is spent dwindling on the details.

This is not a Roland Emmerich film (2012). The main point is that the falling comets hurtling toward earth turn out to be extraterrestrial, and the aliens are attacking on foot, sans any kind of aircraft or ship (well for the most part). Thus, the battle for control of Los Angeles begins, as the military stabilizes and makes a stand for humanity.

The rest of the film is filled with the expected stockpile of clichés. The remaining soldiers attempt to hold ground in Santa Monica. However, when the aliens render themselves to be overly powerful, the plan changes to instead reach a FOB base for safety. Along the way, there are several sequences of California mass destruction that could make Michael Bay weep, but the feeling of repetitiveness creeps in after a bit. The soaring music swells as various military members sacrifice themselves in battle and for the sake of innocent victims in peril (children and women move to the front, though thankfully no dogs in sight). Eventually, a specimen is captured and dissected so that the crew can figure out how the entity can be killed.

 

Director Liebesman has experience in the horror genre (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) and he does has an effective way of capturing the madness and carnage. However, he is creatively bereft, and has not a clue on how to handle actors, which becomes glaringly apparent. When a director literally tries to ape Michael Bay, you know there’s trouble in paradise. Screenwriter Christopher Bertolini is more to blame, with characterization nonexistent and dialogue ranging from corny to unbearable (thankfully, there isn’t much speaking). At least Liebesman knows how to keep the film moving throughout its overlong duration.

The acting is hardly worth noting. As a washed out military sergeant, Aaron Eckhart has appeal merely because he is the only recognizable person in the entire movie. You may care, but it will be because it’s Aaron Eckhart, not a character. The kick ass Michelle Rodriguez is always a welcome addition, but she’s saddled with the same stock character in all of these films, not to mention she’s criminally underused here.

And what about the ending of Battle: Los Angeles? Well. It does feature an adequately thrilling climax and an impressive moment with the reveal of the big mothership. Still, this film is ultimately a strange hybrid of passable winter film and summer blockbuster. It has the overall quality of the former and the grand special effects laden disposable feel of the latter. All in all, Battle: Los Angeles should whet appetites until the real summer action films arrive in May.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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Pictures courtesy of Sony