MOVIE REVIEW: 'Battleship' drowns under bad acting, plot



1 1/2 out of 4 stars

In the wake of his rather impressive black comedy debut ("Very Bad Things") and the even better sports drama ("Friday Night Lights"), actor-turned-director Peter Berg decided he'd like to be Michael Bay. First there was "Hancock," the incoherent, yet highly-lucrative action/adventure mess starring Will Smith and now "Battleship."

Mirroring the last act of "The Avengers" and the entire "Transformers" franchise, "Battleship" (based on the Hasbro board game from the '60s), is a thunderously loud, poorly written, badly acted and tediously overlong exercise in garish Hollywood excess. It is everything that is wrong with would-be blockbuster summer fare and by comparison, makes Michael Bay come off looking like Woody Allen.

After spending 10 minutes hop-scotching the globe and including CGI aerial shots from the perspective of outer space, Berg and sibling writers Erich and Jon Hoeber gets the narrative going at a dive bar in Hawaii. Stone (yes, Stone -- played by Alexander Skarsgard) is toasting his already toasted brother Alex (Taylor Kitsch) with shots and beers on his birthday. While on the receiving end of Stone's dressing-down of his slovenly lifestyle, Alex tries to impress the hot blonde Sam (Brooklyn Decker) by breaking into a convenience store and stealing a chicken burrito.

Skip ahead who knows how far into the future and Stone is giving Alex another lecture, only this time during a soccer match right after the latter has been kicked in the face and refuses to leave the field. For roughly a half-hour, the filmmakers want to fully insure we understand that Alex is a headstrong but loveable rebel. The belabored point is more than made.

During a series of international naval exercises, a pack of alien spaceships land in the Pacific and set up shop near Pearl Harbor. It should be pointed out that the aliens were invited by scientists because they live on a faraway planet that closely resembles Earth. As they did similarly in the film "Starman," the armed forces welcome the invited guests by trying to kill them and not surprisingly, the guests retaliate.

Able to transform (get it, "transform?") into virtually any shape, the ships eventually turn into something resembling mammoth swimming scorpions and proceed to unleash an assault on Oahu that leaves thousands dead. While doing this, they erect a water dome/force field thingamajig over an area of the ocean and wouldn't you know it, the only ship left afloat in this area is the one now being commanded by Alex. What are the odds?

Serving alongside Alex is an oafish dude that looks like Matt Damon after too many cortisone shots, the same Japanese guy that kicked him in the face earlier, a seaman that could easily double as a Sumo wrestler and pop singer Rihanna. Have you ever wanted to see Rihanna packing major heat? Now is your chance.

Berg occasionally cuts back to dry land where Sam -- a physical therapist -- is doing her best to get a wounded veteran who lost his legs in battle to snap out of his funk and get on with life. Before they get all caught up in the fray, these two characters actually explore something resembling dramatic depth. It is touching and poignant and sadly short-lived.

Next to the Sam sub-plot, the only thing the movie has going for it are the special effects, which really aren't all that different from those seen in every other flick where a bunch of things catch fire and/or blow up. Berg and his effects team deserve some degree of credit because they not only resist the urge to edit the film to death with whiplash speed, they actually employ slow-motion a great deal of the time. You can actually make sense of what's happening visually even though most of what's happening narrative-wise is laughably inane.

The filmmakers pinch a little more plot from "Starman" in third act and regularly mention the ancient Sun Tzu text "The Art of War," but completely botch both references on their way to a numbing and lumbering finish that stretches believability and plausibility beyond their breaking points.

The saddest thing about "Battleship" is that it probably won't be the worst movie of the summer. After all it's only May. We still have three plus months to go. (Universal)