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'Battleship' review: It isn't shipshape

An alien invader is spotted in the Pacific

An alien invader is spotted in the Pacific in "Battleship", an epic-scaled action-adventure that unfolds across the seas, in the skies and over land as our planet fights for survival against a superior force. Credit: Universal Pictures

Empty pro-military propaganda? Hit! A production budget larger than a presidential campaign? Hit! Brooklyn Decker spilling out of her top? You sunk my battleship!

Steaming toward multiplex domination, the sci-fi juggernaut "Battleship" employs the same nonintelligent strategy as the Hasbro board game: Fire blindly at broad targets and wait for explosions. It quotes audaciously from Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," but this hollow, hoorah fantasy will appeal mainly to 9-year-old boys dazzled by weaponry and uniforms. They're also the viewers least likely to notice what a creaky, shoddily constructed vessel "Battleship" really is.

Older audiences will recognize the officers, gentlemen and top guns in this rip-off script, which involves cocky Lieutenant Alex (Taylor Kitsch); his officer brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgård); and flinty-eyed Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). Endless lectures about wasted talent are thankfully cut short by an alien invasion in the waters around Hawaii.

These are humanoid aliens, with rubbery digits and rockabilly goatees (and protective suits that may infringe on patents by Tony Stark). It's unclear why their ships are sometimes invincible and sometimes as flammable as balsa-wood gliders, but the movie doesn't care. These nameless beings are just cannon fodder for American soldiers, especially hotshot Alex, who can drive a World War II-era warship around like an S-class Mercedes.

Director Peter Berg ("Hancock") handles the thunderous effects sequences well enough -- the bladed, iron-eating spheres are pretty nifty -- but anything human-related lands dead in the water. The deep-bowing Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) provides some East-West malarkey; Alex's girlfriend (Decker) mainly frets and jiggles on the sidelines; Rihanna, as a tough-talking shipmate, does little to justify her top billing.

The casting of real-life Iraq veteran Gregory D. Gadson as legless hero Mick Canales feels crassly manipulative, especially in a movie whose childlike idea of war is lobbing missiles at coordinates on a high-tech grid. In a word: Miss!

PLOT Aliens attack Earth, but first they'll have to get past the U.S. Navy.

RATING PG-13 (intense action and violence)

CAST Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Rihanna.

LENGTH 2:11.

PLAYING AT Area theaters.

BOTTOM LINE A crass, hollow, hoo-rah fantasy best suited for 9-year-olds with weaponry fixations.

Back story: 'Battleship' couldn't be too gung-ho

Eager to showcase its ships in front of the taxpayers who pay for them, the United States Navy cooperated enthusiastically with the makers of "Battleship," providing access to five destroyers and hundreds of real sailors. But with that access came a quandary for director Peter Berg: how to shoot a movie starring America's seaborne military branch without being too American for the foreign filmgoers who typically constitute more than half of an action movie's audience.

"I did not want 'Battleship' to be perceived as an American war film," said Berg. "I wanted to do everything I could to make the film accessible to a global audience. It felt like bringing an alien component to the film would help take the American jingoism out of it and let it be something that felt more summerish and more adventurous."

Berg, 50, has spent a good chunk of his life around the military, first as the son of a Marine who was an avid Naval historian, then while embedded with Navy SEALs in Iraq to research a film.

Berg's background positioned him well to walk the line between portraying the Navy authentically and pleasing Universal Pictures, the studio that financed the $211-million action film with an eye toward building a franchise.

-- Los Angeles Times

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