War is hell.
And so is alien invasion.
That’s the long and short of Battle: Los Angeles, a war movie with nasty, insect-like extraterrestrials standing in for every enemy the Marines have ever faced.
Yet, despite the plot predictability, the boilerplate dialog, and stretching too close to two hours, Battle: Los Angeles builds enough suspenseful tension — especially in its first half — to take it out of contention for the worst LA-gets-leveled splatter-rama to make it to the big screen.
Aaron Eckhart is Michael Nantz, a staff sergeant stationed in Southern California who’s just days shy from early retirement after a particularly grueling overseas assignment in which several of his men were killed. But, wouldn’t you just know it, he can’t put his uniform away just yet because that strange meteor shower over L.A. Turns out it’s the first wave of a brutal alien attack.
Nantz and his unit are tasked with rescuing a group of civilians trapped in an abandoned police station behind enemy lines in Santa Monica. They’ve got three hours to get them out before the Air Force turns the beachfront city into a bombed-out wasteland.
Of course, his Marines might as well be from Hollywood Rent-a-Soldier. There’s the nervous newbie, the traumatized and stressed-out, the husband-to-be who has so much to live for and a book-smart second lieutenant (Ramon Rodriguez, The Wire).
Still, for all of that, the chaotic claustrophobia and the shaky-cam vérité realism are effective, especially when the audience doesn’t yet know what the aliens look like or what they want. They’re just this malevo lent force intent on wiping our DNA off the face of the planet.
Eckhart displays the requisite square-jawed G.I. Joe ruggedness, and the film generally looks good. Director Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), working from a script by Christopher Bertolini, does a pretty good job of destroying faux L.A.
Leibesman avoids the usual shots of iconic structures being turned to ash and instead makes the entire landscape a nightmare of twisted overpasses and smoky horizons.
Anyone looking for the broader social implications of, say, District 9 (which shares some visual similarities to Battle: Los Angeles) or even Space: Above and Beyond — the short-lived, ’90s Fox series about Marines in combat against faceless, insect-like aliens — is bound to be disappointed.
None of that may matter, though. The door, wide enough to let through a mother ship full of angry aliens, is left open for a sequel.
(c) 2011, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.