As alien invasions go, Battle: Los Angeles falls squarely in the middle of the pack. It’s not so goofy as Independence Day, not so terrifying as War of the Worlds, and it utterly lacks the imagination and emotional resonance of District 9. It is, however, a solid popcorn movie, with plenty of action, explosions and low-key mayhem unlikely to scar even the most fragile of psyches. It’s the sort of film that’s entertaining while you’re in the theater, even though you’ll probably have forgotten it by the time you’ve reached your front door.
South African director Jonathan Liebesman is responsible for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and the forgotten but truly terrible Darkness Falls, about a demonic Tooth Fairy who terrorizes a small town, presumably forcing the populace into buying new crowns without insurance. Happily, Liebesman has stepped up his game here, even if he’s swiped bits and pieces from other films.
Like all good military movie heroes, Staff Sgt. Michael Nance (Aaron Eckhart) lugs around plenty of combat baggage. In his last harrowing tour of Afghanistan, he was blamed for the deaths of the rest of his platoon. Naturally, he has just signed his retirement papers but is called almost immediately back to work. A cluster of meteors has been spotted heading for Earth, and some are going to smash into the California coast, so the military needs all hands to evacuate residents. The men under Nance’s makeshift command aren’t particularly happy about getting stuck with him, but they have bigger problems. The meteors aren’t rocks. They’re space ships full of well-armed, colonizing extraterrestrials, and pretty soon L.A. is facing massive destruction.
Liebesman shoots the action from a grunt’s-eye view, as his Marines — led by that other stock war character, the well-educated officer (Ramon Rodriguez) who’s a stand-up guy but naive in the strategies of physical engagement — attempt to rescue a few stranded civilians and fend off their powerful adversaries. The action is reminiscent of a video game, with chaotic fire fights and lots of yelling. There’s no real sense of loss as characters die; the script makes a token attempt to differentiate among the Marines, but the best I can make out, there’s the virgin, the guy who’s about to get married (Ne-Yo) and Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar), who turns up as a tech-savvy soldier of another company. Otherwise, they’re fairly interchangeable.
The aliens are an unimpressive lot, too, though we don’t see much of them until Nance grabs one of the wounded and performs a gross and impromptu dissection to find out how to kill them. Turns out you don’t need to do anything special: a bullet to the heart area works just fine. The same could be said for Battle: Los Angeles. It’s not special, but it doesn’t have to be.
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Ne-Yo, Michael Pena, Bridget Moynahan.
Director: Jonathan Liebesman.
Screenwriter: Christopher Bertolini.
Producers: Jeffrey Chernov, Ori Marmur, Neal H. Moritz.
A Sony Pictures release. Running time: 116 minutes. Sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, language. Opens Friday March 11 at area theaters