DVD Release Date: June 14, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: March 11, 2011
Rating: R (for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and strong language)
Genre: Action
Run Time: 116 min.
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Cory Hardrict, Ne-Yo, Adetokumboh M’Cormack, Michael Pena

Battle: Los Angeles is exactly what you think it is. This big-budget invasion flick offers no surprises but, if you’re into this sort of thing, provides exactly what you’re hoping for: things blowed up real good and some patriotic machismo.

Set in the needlessly-dated time of August 2011 (a pseudo-“what if?” immediacy that will be lost soon enough … which may speak to the studio’s own lack of faith in the film’s shelf-life), the story opens as all the world’s major cities are under attack by an unknown alien fleet. After this brief action-tease, the narrative flashes back 24 hours to establish the troops from one L.A.-based platoon that is about to be unexpectedly thrust from boot camp training into intergalactic warfare—though, as Marines, the operation will keep their boots squarely on the ground.

This initial stretch plods along episodically as we are introduced to each character through exposition-laden conversations too perfectly informative for their own good, all designed to establish yet another typical crew of stereotypes: one’s getting engaged, another’s a virgin, several know how to party, while another vows to carry on the legacy of his fallen soldier brother.

The men who will lead them are equally stock: one’s the retiring sergeant, the other a green lieutenant fresh out of officer school, both with something to prove. Yawn. Every character is a standard prototype, as is the screenplay’s entire construct and rote dialogue (lines like “This is not a drill!” and “Hold the line!” are standard, and usually shouted). But at least the special effects aren’t lazy.

Once the alien invasion is full-on, Battle: Los Angeles barrels forward as an Independence Day meets Black Hawk Down hybrid. The attack is global and the landscape is filled by the extra-terrestrial onslaught, yet instead of jumping around between countries, narratives, and an embattled U.S. president, this story exclusively focuses on the one Marine platoon and their half-combat/half-rescue mission through the burning ruins of L.A.

The steady kinetic grittiness makes the otherwise formulaic narrative passable (though still occasionally annoying).Troops engage in various shootouts with the oncoming aliens (mostly seen at a distance, and never presented as more than scary slimy creatures with laser guns), trying to drive the enemy back as they pick up a few innocent pedestrians along the way. 

Some live and others die as the platoon attempts to bring the civilians safely to a base camp for evacuation transport. The whole trek plays out like little more than a live-action version of “Call of Duty” with familiar genre beats. If a soldier writes a note to his wife, you know eventually someone else will have to deliver it for him. If another needs some redemption from previous mistakes, he will of course be given that opportunity and succeed. Various others will struggle with doubt amidst melodramatic anger and tears, occasionally challenging someone’s resolve in face-to-face confrontations, only to summon courage and unity moments later (usually with the help of an impromptu inspirational speech).

The ensemble is far from an acting showcase, offering serviceable performances for one-dimensional archetypes. Aaron Eckhart and Bridget Moynahan (as the sergeant and a rescued civilian, respectively) are the exceptions, elevating their roles with innate human conviction. Eckhart especially distinguishes himself, bringing an emotional and moral complexity to a part (and film) that doesn’t really deserve his efforts. Watching, I couldn’t help but think how he’d fit perfectly into an inspired Indiana Jones reboot; the fedora, the whip, the wry smile … but I digress (a flaw this film’s monotony will likely encourage.)

For all its technical prowess and aesthetic texture, Jonathan Liebesman’s directorial vision isn’t particularly inspired. The alien spacecrafts are interesting, particularly how they connect to form a bigger organism, but in the broader sense of how scenes are conceived and staged there’s a lack of invention.  

Liebesman even avoids depicting creative ways to destroy L.A. cityscape icons. That may be intentional so as to maintain an intimacy with this platoon’s experience (an admirable artistic choice), but in the end we’re left with zero money shots. That’s an odd omission for a film that is otherwise dutifully conventional. Everything’s well-produced, but nothing’s particularly memorable.

Still, despite its generic shortcomings, when the time comes for the sergeant’s singular decision of sacrifice to inspire the others to follow him into certain suicide (particularly after they’ve previously doubted him), I have to confess it gave me goose bumps. Battle: Los Angeles may not have earned my admiration, but at the very least it earned that moment. So that’s something.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Soldiers have a tailgate party where beer is consumed and drunkenness depicted, including one instance of vomiting.
  • Language/Profanity:  Profanities are used regularly throughout, though not pervasively, including various uses of the s-word, a-word, and the Lord’s name used in vain a handful of times (both GD and JC). One use of the f-word late in the film.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  No sexual content, although one discussion and a few teasing references are made to one soldier’s virginity and his need to lose it. At the early tailgate party, there are beautiful young women partying with the soldiers, some kissing occurs, but nothing overtly sexual.
  • Violence:Consists of war-like violence throughout (intense gunfire, war zone activity, explosions, etc.). Not graphically bloody, but people are shot (including in the head), injured, burned, and killed, and the results are occasionally shown (including severe burns and gunshot wounds).  Violence against aliens is more graphic as we see aliens shot, bloodied, stabbed, carved up, dissected, and exploded. Also charred alien carcasses and remains. Oftentimes alien blood and other fluids spew violently out of their bodies during these moments of combat. Think of it as a PG-13 sci-fi Saving Private Ryan.