Thursday, July 7, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles (Jonathan Liebesman, 2011) -- D+

Battle: Los Angeles is unquestionably one of the most interesting films of 2011. That doesn't mean it isn't also one of the worst. Such a seeming contradiction reveals itself through intention vs. execution - director Jonathan Liebesman's ambitions far exceed his abilities. The film deserves at least marginal credit for its focus, that being an assemblage of diverse (black, hispanic, white, female) troops, each given a half-assed, one scene backstory, who are then hurled into battle against indistinguishable robot figures. Liebesman is not concerned with the rationale for attack, nor does he provide much detailed exposition. Instead, an attempt at pathos comes via Sgt. Nance (Aaron Eckhart), whose bravado matches the patriotics of early John Wayne characters - brash, slick, and full-blooded American. In times of intense crisis, he breaks into not-so eloquent monologue about unwavering duty, remaining loyal to the platoon, and putting country before self. In other words - a plea for irrational militarism. Not since Saving Private Ryan has a Hollywood war film so flippantly utilized the heroic narrative. The film essentially turns into an extended military advertisement, verging on propaganda in its straight-faced conviction. Problem is, that conviction plays as merely incoherent filler, not revisionist history for post-9/11 response. Instead of figuring a way to properly update military credulousness, Liebesman concocts an offensive melange of low-budget sci-fi and pathetically derivative docu-drama shaky-cam. His aesthetics clash more than the marines and aliens. Moreover, Liebesman's attempt to make what are essentially backlot sets with green-screens seem like epic, on-location realism is hilariously, almost shockingly, unconvincing. Were his postmodern sensibilities more refined, one could claim such efforts as appropriating the 1950's sci-fi allegory for modern warfare anxieties, thereby simultaneously redefining action/sci-fi genre split through Carpenter-esque formal minimalism and Hawksian propriety. Nope - this is a geek's world, with video game mantras, unremarkable visuals, and thoughtlessly pro-military, dunderheaded naivete.

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