Movie review: Jonathan Liebesman's Battle: Los Angeles, starring Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Cory Hardrich, Ne-Yo, Bridget Moynahan and Michelle Rodriguez (with trailer video)

To its credit, Battle: Los Angeles jettisons many of the now-standard tropes of this kind of popcorn flick. Gone are the chattering government officials, the insipid "are they friends or foes?" debate, the set-piece destruction of national monuments, etc. (Best choice by the filmmakers: no lame protective shields for the aliens and their ships. Hallelujah!) Instead, there's 15 minutes of set-up introducing Eckhart, his platoon's commanding officer (a solid Ramon Rodriguez) and the rest of the grunts, followed by 90 minutes of gunfire and explosions. Somewhere along the line the soldiers pick up Michelle Rodriguez, playing the same tough chick she always does. (Can someone give this woman something to do already?) They need her, because at the rate the Marines are killed, the movie is in danger of running out of human characters.

I found myself more engaged by Battle: LA than I expected going in. Many of the things I hoped would NOT be included (clunky dialogue, nonsensical plotting, rampant nationalism) are here in spades, yet they don't sink the movie. Director Jonathan Liebesman ratchets up the intensity by shooting most of the action hand-held, with the framing tight on the characters. He also employs the usual quick-cutting found in most contemporary action films, but here it works to give the viewer a sense of the confusion and instability of combat. There are several tense, action-packed scenes (the early ambush, the bus escape that leads to a pitched battle on a freeway overpass, the final firefight) that really work, and I found myself a bit worn out walking out of the theater.

[image-1]The performances are all pretty standard, save Eckhart, who is nothing less than convincing throughout. Despite being given some incredibly heroic scenes, Eckhart's Staff Sgt. Nantz is no Superman, and the actor does a fine job of relating deep emotional pain to the audience without overselling it. (And without choking on his awkward lines.) This is in marked contrast to Eckhart's performance in The Dark Knight, which became a bit too cartoony for my taste. The actor was on The Daily Show recently talking about how the filmmakers wanted to honor the Marines by being as accurate as possible with the portrayal and language they use. Other than the PG-13 rating limiting the number of F-bombs to one, I think they pretty well nailed it. But I'm also not a Marine.

Look, the math on whether you should see Battle: LA is pretty simple: You like war movies and intense action? If so, get ready for an exciting treat. You're more into plot, character development and sparkling dialogue? I think The King's Speech is still playing around town.

As a title, Battle: Los Angeles is the perfect summation of Hollywood's latest alien invasion fantasy. This is a war movie unconcerned with little things like plot or characterization. Oh sure, there's a general through-line (meteors land off the coast of Santa Monica, aliens arrive on shore and open a can of whoop-ass, U.S. Marines fight to rescue civilians and stay alive) and a few characters get some depth, most notably Aaron Eckhart's Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz, a 20-year vet who just signed the paperwork to leave the corp when the invasion begins. But these are formalities. Battle: Los Angeles only aspires to be a loud, rocking combat film (think Independence Day meets Black Hawk Down), and on that score it's a blast.

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