Superficial, Yes, But the Weather Is Nice

In the interest of full disclosure, I live and work in Los Angeles. In fact, I work in downtown Los Angeles, which gets a pretty hefty beating in Battle: Los Angeles. And while the movie itself was filmed in Louisiana, as a Los Angeles resident, I might have enjoyed the whole spectacle a little more than non-native audiences. At one point, the Marines (an assortment of alien/action movie stock characters) attempt a daring plan to rescue a group of civilians stranded behind enemy lines. If this movie had been more fun, there would have been an extended scene where each of the refugees offer an opinion on which route to take from Lincoln Boulevard to the Santa Monica Airport. The Marines decide to take the 10, and half my audience said, “Are you crazy? Take Lincoln to Ocean.” While the other half said, “Please? With all that alien traffic? Take side streets to Bundy, look for valet parking.”

“Fun” is an element that is decidedly missing from Battle: Los Angeles, and that is entirely their prerogative, I’m sure. Not every alien invasion movie needs a wise-cracking Will Smith character. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have a full-on alien invasion drama. The whole premise is inherently dramatic, no? The problem with Battle: Los Angeles is that it steals all the clichés and characters from previous alien and action movies, but none of the cleverness.

BLA stars rugged and handsome Aaron Eckhart as a rugged and handsome Marine Staff Sergeant who just happens to be hours away from retirement. Yes, that old story. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. Aaron couldn’t believe it when he was saying it. Shortly after, the movie introduces us to its large cast of expendables, including “the smart one,” “the foreign one who just wants his shot at the American dream,” “the one with the chip on his shoulder,” “the one who’s getting married tomorrow,” “the shell-shocked one,” “the one with the baby on the way” and, as Johnny M pointed out to me, “the Michelle Rodriguez one.” Yes, Michelle has done enough of these things to qualify as her own category of stereotypical character. To be fair, though, no one does “Michelle Rodriguez” better than Michelle Rodriguez.

With such a huge cast, all painted in the broadest of terms, would it really have killed them to include a gay character? Since none of the stock characters include “the gay one,” I will go ahead and assume Aaron’s retiring sergeant character is gay. They make a point of letting us know that Aaron isn’t married, doesn’t have kids, drinks bottled water and carries around Stud Puppy, a candy dish, a Joan Crawford post card and some mascara. So, I’m claiming him as one of our own. (And Michelle Rodriguez, too.)

With so many explosions and special effects to get to, I have to imagine that director Jonathan Liebesman figured that if he just used the characters from Aliens, Independence Day, Black Hawk Down and Predator, he could save some time and get right to the gunfire. While certainly economical, the broad character strokes attempt to tell us what to feel about each character, instead of making them real or unique enough for us to develop feelings for them on our own. However, with movies like these, who has time to develop feelings for characters when the body count demands sacrifices as quickly as possible?

The actors themselves do a good job with what they have, and True Blood’s Jim Parrack stands out as “the shell-shocked one” who hasn’t been cleared for combat, yet finds himself in the middle of all hell breaking loose. Plus, he’s a cutie. So, let’s just say he’s “the shell-shocked gay one.” He can join Aaron and Michelle in the VIP section.

Make no mistake, this is a rah-rah pro-Military epic. I’d love to see it with an audience of Marines (and not just for the obvious reasons). I was all set to enlist by the time the movie was over, until I remembered that I wouldn’t last five minutes in the military. I had a meltdown in the Ralph Lauren section of Macy’s recently, so I know I couldn’t handle any sort of combat. Or shared living quarters. Or the haircut.

If you recall, when I posted the trailer a few weeks ago, my main interest in the film was its potential for some really good “triumph of the human spirit” moments, which get me every time. While the film certainly has them, I’m disappointed to report that, like much of the rest of the proceedings, they just feel clichéd. Really good TotHS moments involve the perfect combination of time, location, character and sacrifice. You just can’t fake that and expect any sort of moisture from my barren eyeballs.

The aliens themselves are serviceable. Not terrible, not great. The film does effectively achieve a certain level of anxiety over who they are and what they want. While gooey, slimy, bug-like aliens are the norm nowadays, I always wonder how something so gelatinous could have the manual dexterity to build advanced weapons and spacecraft, let alone master intergalactic travel. Seems like you would need bones and a face to pull off that kind of thing. That could just be my raging xenophobia coming through, though.

Battle: Los Angeles is what it is, shortcuts, rip-offs, clichés and all, but is it successful? By the end of the film, I certainly liked the characters I was supposed to like, and I cheered for the parts I was supposed to cheer for, but does that mean the movie works? On a purely basic level, it does. It gets the job done, like buying generic instead of name brand. I’m going out on a limb here by betting that the sequel might actually exceed the original, in terms of originality. There are less sequel clichés to draw from, unless, of course, they have to save a bunch of kids who have been captured by the alien queen to use as human hosts for her army. Still, if they give Aaron a boyfriend, I will accept that.

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