From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Santa Monica, the first and last to fight are U.S. Marines in Battle: Los Angeles — plus an Air Force pickup and a few civilian stragglers. This is a sci-fi disaster movie, you know. Even the dog doesn't die.
Battle: Los Angeles comes from the production company Original Films, an ironic name since everything in this hyperactive, concussive movie has been done before. Aliens are invading Earth like Independence Day and War of the Worlds (although chintzier). A platoon of foxhole stereotypes is fighting back with Black Hawk Down ferocity and jitter-cams. The creatures are from somewhere near District 9.
Director Jonathan Liebesman dishes out the demolition of Santa Monica — not L.A., but Battle: Santa Monica wouldn't sell — while 19 other cities worldwide are under attack. We don't see any of them except in brief, grainy TV footage, without any identifiable rubble. Audiences want landmarks destroyed in disaster flicks — the White House in Independence Day, for example. Liebesman doesn't even topple Santa Monica's signature Ferris wheel.
Aaron Eckhart forgets he's a serious actor to play Sgt. Michael Nantz, days away from retirement (yes, that angle again), carrying guilt over losing an entire platoon somewhere overseas. Nantz is dragged back to combat when meteor mortars strike, releasing hordes of seemingly unstoppable aliens. His new troops won't let Nantz forget, especially the brother of a Marine who died under his command.
But they're bound by the gung-ho slogan "Retreat, hell," first spoken by an idol who added: "We just got here."
When the troops aren't seething or shooting, they're barking out tactical jargon and trying to stay in Lukas Ettlin's attention-challenged camera frame. Battle: Los Angeles works so hard for you-are-there visual authenticity that at times you'd rather be anywhere else. Even the act of changing a car radio station threatens eyeball whiplash. Tone it down, along with Brian Tyler's glorified musical score.
Battle: Los Angeles is a bit more interesting when the civilians show up, with Michael Pena and Bryce Cass adding father-son warmth and Bridget Moynahan's amusing offer: "Maybe I can help. I'm a veterinarian." Anyone in uniform is too busy not dying to register as characters, although Eckhart's GI Joe chin either leads or quivers effectively.
What nags me about Battle: Los Angeles is that Liebesman never realizes what he set up to happen after the fadeout. Los Angeles, or what's left of it, may be saved but those aliens are tough cookies, and our forces are decimated. You have to think they can bring in reinforcements from any of those other 19 battlegrounds — Mexico City wouldn't be much trouble — to finish the job. Retreat, hell. They just got here.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.