By Matt Brunson
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES
DIRECTED BY Jonathan Liebesman
STARS Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez
It takes a special type of hack to make Roland Emmerich look like Steven Spielberg, but Jonathan Liebesman appears to be the right man for the job. The less said about most Emmerich movies (like 2012 and Matthew Broderick Meets Godzilla), the better, but he did helm Independence Day back in the mid-1990s, and for all that film's faults specifically, that it contained not a single idea it could rightfully call its own it knew how to milk the hell out of its H.G. Wells-by-way-of-Hollywood premise and, silly as it sounds, make us proud to be human. Battle: Los Angeles, which mines the same territory as ID and countless other alien-invasion opuses that came before it, is so feeble that we really don't care who wins the global skirmish: the E.T.s or the earthlings. At least if the aliens win, we won't have to sit through any more movies like this one.
The constantly undervalued Aaron Eckhart, last seen doing terrific work in Rabbit Hole, and the exciting Michelle Rodriguez, once again relegated to grunt duty (she basically plays the same role here as in Avatar, S.W.A.T. and Resident Evil), are the closest things to "name" actors in this endeavor (added bonus: a "name" rapper in Ne-Yo!), but their welcome presence can only drag this up a smidgen. They're both cast as soldiers (he's a Marine sergeant, she's with the Air Force) who spring into action when Earth is invaded by creatures bent on wiping out all human life. Most of the world's major cities London, Paris, New York, Gastonia, NC have already been decimated, leaving LA as the last great hope for humankind's survival. So it's up to Eckhart's Sgt. Nantz and his gang to rise to the occasion. "Retreat? Hell!" bark the Marines at regular intervals, as a sign that they'll never back down.
Battle: Los Angeles is such an ADD-afflicted action film that it's impossible to invest much emotion in it. There's a cursory attempt at the beginning to humanize its characters This one's getting married! This one's not combat-ready! This one can burp out the lyrics to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"! (OK, just joshing on the last one) but they're all so one-dimensional that once the fighting begins, it's difficult to keep track of who's who. "Where's Lenihan?" someone asks regarding a missing comrade, but they might as well have been asking, "Where's Waldo?" for all it ultimately matters.
The design of the alien critters is the usual blend of crunchy on the outside and squishy on the inside they resemble the monsters from Predator and Alien, to name but two of many but that's OK, since the camerawork and editing are executed at such dizzying paces that we never get a good look at most of the CGI work anyway.
"Retreat"? Hell, yeah! Where's the nearest exit?