Somewhere, far out in the reaches of space, some pissed-off aliens must be plotting a regime change.
Their leaders intercepted a signal beacon from a harmless-looking blue-green planet and, instead of ignoring it and minding their own business, like most of us do when someone “pokes” us on Facebook, promptly decided to invade. What they expected to find on Earth is not clear. What they did find, after a jaunt that presumably entailed faster-than-light travel, was a stretch of ocean bristling with well-armed U.S. Navy vessels and burly young men itching to show their mettle.
Upon which, rather than summarily dispatching these puny foes and proceeding to the resources they’d come to plunder, as one might expect from a species of overwhelming technological superiority, the alien generals submerged their gigantic crafts and waited placidly for their associates to repair a broken communication line. When a cocky human lieutenant with something to prove (Taylor Kitsch) came around and poked them again (because we never learn), they finally dignified the Earthlings with their notice.
But once again, rather than wasting our entire pathetic fleet, these incompetent commanders left one ship afloat. And that’s when, to while away the time until they could appear on alien CNN and declare their mission accomplished, they decided to accept their enemy’s invitation to play a round of Battleship, the popular grid-based strategy game.
What a pity Douglas Adams isn’t alive to chronicle the blunderings of these invaders, who somehow found themselves caught in a feature-length commercial for a Hasbro product. One in which the only line viewers are really hoping to hear — “You’ve sunk my battleship!” — is never uttered.
The aliens aren’t the only ones who should feel trapped in this Transformers rip-off. Director Peter Berg brought some zaniness to the summer action movie with Hancock, but in Battleship he restricts his comic touch to an opening sequence that showcases Kitsch’s bad-boy charisma. This teaser is so stylistically incongruous with the relentless smashing and exploding to follow that it feels like a “Looney Tunes” short subject attached to a very long recruitment commercial.
Kitsch, Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgård are similarly ill served here, though one can’t say the same for Rihanna in her grating acting debut; or Brooklyn Decker striving to look perturbed by the carnage around her. Some of the other actors have fun with their one-note roles, including Hamish Linklater as the requisite science nerd and Gregory D. Gadson as a disabled vet who demonstrates that aliens are no match for an angry double amputee.
Aiming for the global box office, Hollywood executives appear to have decided that extraterrestrials make the most politically correct bad guys. Thus, what should be a source of existential terror — the emergence of an alien craft from the waves, looming like the 2001 monolith — becomes just the prelude to a video game.
At least Independence Day gave us time to cringe at the destruction of world capitals. Battleship hand-waves away the small issue of the Earth’s fate to address the more important question of whether Kitsch’s character can kick enough alien butt to impress Admiral Neeson and win his hot daughter’s hand.
Enormous spoiler: He does! As for the aliens, with their whirling, razor-toothed superweapons that appear to have been pinched from the Transformers design template, we shall never know how their plans for galactic domination panned out. We only hope that in the next election cycle they find themselves a commander-in-chief who can resist board games.