Battle Los Angeles
dir Jonathan Liebesman
scr Christopher Bertolini
prd Jeffrey Chernov, Ori Marmur, Neal H Moritz
with Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Michael Peña, Bridget Moynahan, Jim Parrack, Gino Anthony Pesi, Ne-Yo, Cory Hardrict, Will Rothhaar, Noel Fisher, Adetokumboh M'Cormack
release US/UK 11.Mar.11
11/US Columbia 1h56
Battle Los Angeles
Freedom fighters: Eckhart

rodriguez pena moynahan
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Battle Los Angeles So po-faced that it almost feels like a spoof, this energetic action epic is watchable due to its solid cast and visceral tone. And the story and characters are so thin that you almost admire the filmmakers' nerve.

Staff-Sergeant Nantz (Eckhart) is retiring from the Marines on the day of an alien attack on 12 major cities. A shady past means his new troops don't trust him, including the expectant father (Ramon Rodriguez), the shell-shocked guy (Parrack), the buddies (Pesi and Ne-Yo), the bitter one (Hardrict), the bright young thing (Rothhaar), the virgin (Fisher) and the foreigner (M'Cormack). As the assault hits Santa Monica, they're sent to rescue trapped civilians (including Pena and Moynahan). They also team up with an Air Force officer (Michelle Rodriguez) to find a weakness in the alien defence.

Each back-story is outlined quickly in a comically feeble attempt to give these guys something worth fighting for besides Freedom with a capital F. Writer Bertolini and director Liebesman can't be bothered to build actual characters when getting on with the action is much more fun, with imagery so jarringly urgent that we barely register the expansive effects. But this gives a pleasingly rough-and-tumble feel to the film, including some surprisingly tactile touches to the aliens (although giving them purpose or personality was clearly a step too far).

Meanwhile, the irony is completely lost on the filmmakers, who could have actually made the film much more interesting by having these American Iraq-invasion veterans realise the implications as they scrabble around to fend off an invading force with, yes, improvised explosive devices. But no, the film is packed with gung-ho military jargon, fake emotion, resounding arrogance and stiff dialog that's packed with cliches, all of which is cut and pasted from other movies.

That said, the movie's urgent Hurt Locker-like visual approach manages to draw us in, papering over some head-scratching lapses in logic (just how does the command centre get underground?). There's something rather enjoyable about a movie so blunt and chaotic that it seems shallow even compared to a videogame. And it proves that there's a very fine line indeed between an over-serious action epic and a silly pastiche.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 7.Mar.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall