Every once in a while, a movie comes along that's so utterly shameless that it achieves a certain grandeur. Battleship, which I swear to God is described in its Wikipedia entry as an "American science fiction action naval war film," is one such movie.
Over the past few years, the military-industrial-entertainment complex has been going great guns with salutes to the Army (G.I. Joe) and Navy SEALs (Act of Valor). Now there's Battleship, a $200 million hail to the fleet, which takes the unusual task of extrapolating a story arc from that game with the little red plastic pegs, principally remembered as being easy to cheat at.
Establishing its tendency to shuttle between intimate soap opera and planetary-scale cataclysm, Battleship begins with the news that scientists are attempting to use a transmitter in Hawaii to make contact with "Planet G," where atmospheric conditions are possibly favorable to life. This is where we join shaggy Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), sousing away his 26th birthday at an Oahu bar, picking up Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) with an act of nutty bravado while his strait-laced Navy-lifer big brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgård), looks on disapprovingly.
When we next catch up with the Hoppers, Alex — now Lt. Hopper, having been forcibly recruited for his own good by his brother — is still a disciplinary case and can't win the approval of Samantha's father, Pacific Fleet Adm. Shane (Liam Neeson). On the eve of the multinational RIMPAC naval exercises, Alex is on the brink of being busted out of the service while at the same time, vast cool and unsympathetic intellects on Planet G are regarding this earth with envious eyes. The space invaders splash down a few crafts, quite reminiscent in their intricately shifting movable-parts design and metallic cacophony to Transformers. The extraterrestrials use force-field technology to seal off the Hawaiian islands, which effectively strands the assembled fleets of the Pacific Rim out at sea, leaving only destroyer USS John Paul Jones inside. It should go without saying that the JPJ is the ship crewed by out-of-his-depth Lt. Alex and — why not? — Rihanna.
Director Peter Berg, creator of Friday Night Lights, is in street-fighting mode here — that is, he does not hesitate to pull any dirty trick to get the job done. I was able to withstand the emotional suction when hothead Alex learns to control his temper. I restrained with effort the palpitations of One World sentiment when Hopper and his former foe on the soccer pitch, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Capt. Nagata (Tadanobu Asano), banded together to resist another sneak attack in the common protection of all mankind. I was even able to maintain my composure, just barely, when the double-amputee ex-Army hero played by Iraq vet Gregory D. Gadson got his wish to play soldier again. But by the time the crew of old salts who had weathered Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and Korea arrive to serve their country once more, Battleship is a lost cause. And when the F-14s come out for a triumphant flyover, I looked around the room to find the moron who was applauding only to realize that it was me.