Film is dead.
If we allow “Battle: Los Angeles” to survive beyond Monday, when its box office receipts will give the film the illusion of meaning, then we can say goodbye to the art form. If people find something worth saluting in this cynical, soulless, pointless waste of celluloid, then appreciation of the craft has dwindled to a point that would make Pauline Kael turn over in her grave, that would make Godard defecate stones, that would make Eisenstein commit seppuku. It is a film of no value, or no politics, seemingly churned out by a Hollywood machine dedicated to providing audiences with the dullest, least-offensive version of what people perceive as entertainment today: the disposable, empty wasteland where the morally bankrupt create junk that flatters the ignorant and alienates the informed.
To tell you the plot of “Battle: Los Angeles” — aliens land and we fight them — is merely describing a Moebius strip of hopelessness. To discuss the characters, who are indistinguishable action figures, is similarly redundant, each one of them a mouthpiece for dialogue spotlighting almost every military cliché you could think of. Aaron Eckhart is one of them, and he has a speech designed to make every jarhead in the audience instantly shout “hoo-rah.” Because “Battle: Los Angeles” may be the most expensive, dumbest, military commercial ever made.
Early on, the bits and pieces of aliens crash-landing worldwide as the characters play out TV-quality melodramas carry that fizzy is-this-real charge of tricky YouTube videos. As mundane as they are, people’s lives keep going on as crisis strikes the West Coast, as we watch a group of central casting grunts try to get laid, while square-jawed Eckhart repents for That One Mission That Went Bad. It is a PG-13 studio film, so the square, family-friendly banter the soldiers use to lighten the mood immediately rings false, despite the camerawork trying to suggest the exact opposite. Meanwhile, that fake gravity is contrasted by the Movie Hero Gloominess of tortured Eckhart, who is, of course, days away from retirement. How fresh.
What supposedly keeps “Battle: Los Angeles” different from the other alien invasion movies you’ve seen is that it deals with trench warfare, opting for the “realism” should such a situation arise. “Battle: Los Angeles” advertises itself immediately as anti-imagination, its filmmakers (most of whom have likely never been in battle) co-opting imagery and sensationalism from battlefield footage and adding nothing to this motif except punishing monotony. The alien designs, never properly observed, are faceless (natch) and comprised of angular and curved features nearly reptilian in nature. Once we find that their body composition as such is similar to humans, the disappointing convenience only leads to the assumption that yes, it would be wise to keep engaging in firefights with the enemy.
The last genuinely semi-interesting plot development occurs when we meet up with civilian survivor Michael Pena. Pena, a capable actor so good in films like “The Lucky Ones” and “World Trade Center,” has a resume that suggests he shouldn’t be used as a chess piece like the rest of this cast, each of which has a narrative function sans voice. Curious that a film with a culturally-diverse group of actors like this would also bend over backwards and incapacitate Pena with a wound early, the better to group the two best looking white cast members (Mr. Eckhart and Bridget Moynihan, the latter playing Mouth-Agape Babe).
That, of course, may seem like a semi-spoiler until you realize the disposable nature of this exercise in cynical blockbuster filmmaking. “Battle: Los Angeles” is the latest in a long line of tent pole releases (“Tron: Legacy” comes to mind) that rely on unusual visuals which run their course after the half hour mark. At this point, “Battle: Los Angeles” need only undermine the “real world” aesthetic with a bombastic action film score that has none of the gravitas of the ominous low-key droning of those memorable trailers which lodged themselves in audiences’ heads over the last few months. It’s this distancing that helps “Battle: Los Angeles” resemble the experience of watching someone you’ve never met play a particularly noisy video game. In this instance, however, it’s too late before you realize the game is a five minute in-store demo with no beginning, no middle and no end. [F]