Battle: Los Angeles. Wow. Someone Wrote That.
The most telling anecdote I can provide about Battle: Los Angeles is that almost every cheese-drenched “dramatic” moment drew raucous laughter from the audience, and trust me, these were no beardy chai sniffers amused by their own detachment. This was a Michael Bay crowd, answering texts during the film and calling each other “f_ggot.” I.e., the target demographic. They weren’t looking for, nor would even probably recognize high art, and even to them, Battle LA‘s earnest attempts at depth were inept to the point of comedy. Can you imagine? That’s like a kindergarten teacher getting clowned by his students. Meanwhile, a less telling anecdote about Battle Los Angeles is that the guy sitting next to me smelled like onions he’d marinated in his own butt.
Hmmm… how much exposition to do here… Aaron Eckhart is a Marine staff sergeant on the eve of his retirement. Aliens invade. Aaron Eckhart is too old for this sh*t. He beats them up and inspires a nation with his heroic chin of valor. Done and done. Battle Los Angeles has been compared many times to Independence Day, for obvious reasons, but there’s one key difference. In Independence Day, we got to know a handful of characters in different places and follow them as their lives became interconnected by DA ALIENZ. In Battlefield LA, we literally get title cards with characters’ names on them like baseball ball cards we’re expected to memorize in the first act. Black Dude With Glasses, starting philosophizer, The Los Angeles People Running from Sh*t. Shoots: right. Screams: towards the Heavens.
Jonathan Liebesman and screenwriter Chris Bertolini’s main strategy for getting us to care about the individual elements in this interchangeable Benneton pastiche of race/age matched at random to Hollywood backstory clichés seems to be the “grandpa joke.” Like if we can just see each character ball busting with his buddies for a few seconds, it will totally humanize them as a someone we should give a sh*t about. Impressive examples of this include:
JOVIAL FELLOW BLACK GUY SOLDIER: (to Eckhart, exhausted after his morning run) Just remember, Sergeant, you’re only as old as you feel!
ECKHART: Then I must be in trouble! Because I can’t feel anything!
[They both laugh]
Wait, what? Why are you in trouble? If you’re as old as you feel, and you can’t feel anything… wouldn’t that make you… zero years old? THESE ARE THE GRANDPA JOKES OF IDIOTS. Another scene, in which Aaron Eckhart shows up to his long-time friend and commanding officer’s office to turn in his retirement papers, begins like this:
ECKHART: Oh, here’s that photo you and I took with a camel. …I mean, YOUR GIRLFRIEND!
[They both laugh]
GET TO THE ROFLCOPTER, THAT IS A KNEE-SLAPPER! And by that I mean if you actually found it funny enough to say out loud, I’d like to use my knee to slap your nuts into your stomach.
At one point, someone else says, “Lenihan, you wouldn’t know your ass from a hot rock!” which makes everyone on screen laugh.
Jesus, where’d these characters meet, Nonsensical Simile School?
From there it’s just a recurring pattern of someone dies, someone cries, everyone gets sad, Aaron Eckhart gives a pep talk, and hope is renewed. Like Independence Day, the aliens show up looking invincible, with superior firepower and almost impossible to kill. Our first status update before the battle is, “so far the aliens have inflicted great damage on the ground, but the assumption is that without an air force, we’ll be able to rule the air.”
Wait, you mean the same aliens who came here from space, those aliens? Yes, I can totally see why you’d assume they don’t have an air force. Solid logic there, supposedly-logical military guy.
Luckily, just when all hope looks lost, Aaron Eckhart discovers (and by discovers I mean blurts out at random) a hypothetical weakness that could TURN THIS WHOLE THING AROUND! And finally give us humans a fightin’ chance! And you know his plan will work because we’re already two thirds of the way into the movie and they don’t have time to introduce anything else.
Oh wait, there’s one other conflict I forgot: Aaron Eckhart’s character has, and you’ll never believe this, a deep dark secret. Apparently he got a bunch of his Marines killed in Afghanistan, probably by being too much of a handsome, cleft-chinned cowboy. And when he takes over a new platoon, the guys he has to lead are freaked out. Oh boy, I smell another dramatic pep talk!
Listen, soldier. Aaron Eckhart would gladly trade his life for anyone one of those dead Marines in a heartbeat. But he can’t. Because leaders have to make decisions, and sometimes those decisions GET PEOPLE KILLED! BUT MAKING THOSE TOUGH DECISIONS IS WHAT BEING A PREPOSTEROUSLY HANDSOME SOLDIER IS ALL ABOUT! It ain’t fair, but LIFE AIN’T FAIR! Sergeant Eckhart did his job, and now those Marines are dead and he’s here, “like the punchline to some bad joke.”
The highlight of the movie was hearing how hard everyone laughed at “punchline to a bad joke.” Meta.
I know this is long, but just one more scene. A little Mexican boy watches his Mexican father die, and now he’s crying because half this movie is people crying about people who just died (even though like a million people die in the first act and you’d think they’d become desensitized to it just a little, most of them being soldiers and all). Aaron Eckhart proceeds to gives the kid a pep talk that is almost a word-for-word recreation of Patton Oswalt’s bit about cops:
In the movie, Aaron Eckhart seriously says to the kid, “You’re gonna be my big brave Marine. That’s right, you’re gonna be my big brave Marine, and do you know why? …That’s right, because Marines don’t quit.”
My God, that is some awesomely cheesy cheese right there. I want to fill that full of jalapeños and use tortilla chips to scoop it out of Aaron Eckhart’s chin dimple. If only there had been a few more gloriously terrible pep talks like this one, Battle: Los Angeles might have reached Jonah Hexian levels of delicious suckitude. But sadly, there were like 40 boring minutes of people running from stuff in shaky cam. Is there anyone who honestly enjoys shaky cam? Enough.
GRADE: B+ for almost sucking hard enough to make it tolerable, D for the attempt at a real movie.