Actor-turned-director Peter Berg had a promising start behind the camera. After a shaky debut with the dark comedy “Very Bad Things,” he went on to direct the very underrated “The Rundown,” the small-town football film “Friday Night Lights” and the Middle East thriller “The Kingdom.” None were great box office successes, but they all displayed potential of a great directorial eye. Hollywood obviously thought so too and started to let him play with big boy money. First was the Will Smith superhero film “Hancock” and now the $200-million “Battleship.” But when Berg goes shopping with a big bankroll, unfortunately quantity trumps quality.
Loosely based on the classic game, “Battleship” takes place in the waters off Hawaii, where the U.S. Navy is going through exercises with other countries during RIMPAC. But then an alien ship lands in the Pacific Ocean and establishes a force field around itself, trapping the ships inside. The trapped naval ships battle with the alien scout crafts, but neither have sufficient equipment to accurately attack, so they rely on guessing the location of their targets before firing.
Meanwhile the alien mother ship sends out mechanical balls of destruction to wreak havoc on Oahu’s infrastructure, while also trying to establish communication to send in reinforcements to take over the Earth. I know it doesn’t make sense, but nothing in the story does. All this is merely a silly way to establish a connection to the original board game.
The film’s staggering budget is undoubtedly evident in its special effects, and most of the destruction and attack sequences are well done. The movie has been called “Transformers” on water and there are indeed similarities to the Michael Bay franchise in terms of special effects, camera angles and even military admiration. Too bad Berg didn’t save any studio money for a decent script or actors. To say the writing in “Battleship” is inane and lazy is putting it mildly. It borrows from every other big budget action film that came before it and doesn’t bother to come up with anything original. A scene where characters return out of nowhere to assist in the battle with a certain famous relic of a ship is meant to be inspirational, but is instead laughable. There’s even a line in the film where a character obviously means to say “aloha,” but says “mahalo” instead — just an example of the screenwriters’ sloppiness.
Sometimes actors can save poor dialogue and make a film watchable, but not this case. The acting is generally bad throughout with all of the leads exaggerating the stereotypes of the clichéd characters they’re playing. I’m betting that audiences won’t be seeing Taylor Kitsch as a lead for very long after “John Carter” and this stinker.
Berg obviously used “Battleship” as an excuse to spend the good part of a year in Hawaii and see how many things he could blow up with Universal’s deep pockets at the expense of a decent story and characters. I hope he returns to smaller films that emphasize substance over style and abandons any dreams of becoming the next Michael Bay. “Battleship” is proof that a bigger budget doesn’t mean a better movie. Notorious B.I.G. said it best — “Mo money, mo problems.”
“Battleship,” 131 minutes, is Rated PG-13 and opens in theaters on Friday.