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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Battle: Los Angeles debuted to decent box office in the spring of 2011 and then quickly faded away. I hadn’t even considered seeing it in theaters. It looked like a generic mish-mash of previous blockbuster films. Battle: Los Angeles seemed so derivative of previous material to me that I almost thought it was one of those The Asylum-produced made-for-SyFy features that cost about a mil to produce despite looking like they were filmed with the same equipment used for a city council meeting. One day browsing discount Blu Ray titles at Target, however, I saw Battle: Los Angeles for a measly $7 or so. I picked it up, because I’ll pretty much buy anything on Blu Ray for less than $10.
I have to admit that it took quite some time for me to actually watch the movie. I consider myself a fan of Aaron Eckhart. He’s done some pretty great work and I liked him just fine in The Dark Knight. Outside of Eckhart and maybe Michelle Rodriguez and Michael Pena, the cast is full of virtual unknowns. The actors in this film are primarily guys who have shown up in episodes of CSI and Law and Order and all their various spin-offs over the years. Nobody outside of Eckhart is really all that recognizable, which works largely against the movie as a whole.
Battle: Los Angeles opens on Eckhart, an aging Staff Sergeant with a dark secret about his tour of duty in the Iraq War. Eckhart plays Ssgt. Nantz fairly well, and is probably the main reason for even seeing the film in the first place. He is almost the standard for the tortured, man-on-a-mission character. He’s a grizzled veteran, an untrusted presence, and loose cannon all in one. When earth is suddenly invaded by a powerful army of alien creatures (in the vein of Independence Day and War of the Worlds), Eckhart and his rag-tag band of army men and women saddle up and ride into the thick of battle.
The first third or so of this film is by far the most interesting, as the close-quarters urban combat creates a few exciting scenes and lends itself to some pretty decent low budget action sequences. The aliens, at first, seem fairly intriguing, as they appear to vanish into thin air and the soldiers must figure out the strange anatomy of their foes. The film falters after a point though, devolving into a generic “Rah rah!”-style of military movie. The aliens lose their mystique, the characters band together and make typical action movie sacrifices for each other, and the film relies on a typical, annoying (click the following link at your own risk – may contain spoilers!) trope that takes place far too often in this type of movie.
What doesn’t help is that Battle: Los Angeles is an ugly movie. Color palette is bland and uninteresting throughout much of the film. Director Jonathan Liebesman is the definition of a hack director (he also directed this year’s Wrath of the Titans, a similarly ugly colored movie with horrid editing). He has no discernible style other than ugly, and the film suffers from a glut of random jump-cuts and choppy editing. I understand that some of this is probably done for budgetary concerns, as Battle: Los Angeles had a fairly middling budget ($70 million – low for action movie standards).
I’m fairly undecided on whether I appreciate the end product. I like that Columbia Pictures took a chance on a low-budget sci-fi actioner. I like Aaron Eckhart’s performance a ton. I like some of the initial mystery surrounding the aliens and their invasion. In fact, the idea for the story is fairly solid. The supporting cast, however, is a mixed bag of generic tropes and C-list actors. The film is ugly and cribs far too heavily off of previous science-fiction films in a few places. The director has no discernible style either. It’s a substandard film for sure, but there is some good in it if one is willing to look hard enough and pay the right price, which is probably about $7.