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Tell It to the Marines

Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

Columbia Pictures

“Battle: Los Angeles” zeroes in on the least interesting aspect of a hostile, militaristic alien invasion: the frontline combat. The specter and mystery of a sudden and fierce extraterrestrial colonization attempt is wiped away by filmmaker Jonathan Liebesman. In its stead is a full-length version of one of those ubiquitous “Be all you can be” ads, an excuse for a band of one-dimensional United States Marines to flex its collective muscle.

Opening 24 hours before the invasion, Christopher Bertolini’s screenplay speedily introduces us to an ensemble of characters we immediately forget. Beyond recognizable faces such as Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez, there’s, erm, the angry one, the married one, the soon-to-be married one and the one from Jersey. After some of the usual oo-rah, unit-bonding histrionics, televisions come alive with reports of a strange meteor shower making waterfall off Santa Monica. Only — get this — the meteors are slowing down before impact and ... they’re not meteors at all.

Soon it’s a combat situation, and we’re in a chopper headed from Camp Pendleton to Santa Monica Municipal Airport, where a frenzied, macho commander sends the crew to a West L.A. police station to rescue some civilians. The path there is perilous, with enormous alien-killing drones on the ground and heavy-powered ships screaming overhead. Gun and missile fire pops and sizzles; the camera shakes and frenetically propels itself from one theater of action to the next. The Marines scream and run, blow the crap out of the enemy with grenades and pull off daring one-man missions (“John Wayne shit”).

The filmmakers make the fatal, conceptual mistake of turning a picture about a mysterious alien attack into a sub-par, propagandistic combat demo reel. There’s no sense of scope, no attempt made to appreciate the significance of a coordinated, high-powered extraterrestrial attempt to leverage Earth’s water supply. The alien baddies are so nondescript, they could be easily swiped out for any other stock, machine-based villain. The one-way perspective with which the battle is presented — rendered largely in murkily lit interiors, in close-ups or tight medium shots, without much visual breathing room — only further enhances the sense that “Battle: Los Angeles” is the cinematic version of a military-training exercise.

And yet, and yet, in spite of it all, at times the movie kinda, sorta works. The production design, which consists in large part of the strewn-about wreckage of wealthy Southern Californian life, is comprehensive and immersive. The enormous destruction being wrought and the magnitude of the assault to the senses perpetrated by the invaders hold some interest. Mr. Eckhart does serious badass well, and almost brings home a pandering, “Marines don’t quit” monologue. If only there were more to “Battle: Los Angeles,” at its core than a whole lot of shooting.


Opens on March 11 in the United States and Britain.

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman; written by Christopher Bertolini; director of photography, Lukas Ettlin; edited by Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production design by Peter Wenham; costumes by Sanja Milkovic Hays; produced by Neal H. Moritz and Ori Marmur; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Aaron Eckhart (Michael Nantz), Michelle Rodriguez (Elena Santos), Ramon Rodriguez (William Martinez), Bridget Moynahan (Michele), Ne-Yo (Kevin Harris), Cory Hardrict (Cpl. Jason Lockett), Gino Anthony Pesi (Cpl. Nick Stavrou), Joey King (Kirsten) and Michael Peña (Joe Rincon).


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