They’ve Sunk This Battleship

Film based on a board game is about as dumb as they come

There will be bigger movies this summer, and better ones and worse ones.

But there will not be a dumber movie than Battleship. Ponderous and pandering, shameless and head-slappingly silly, this Navy vs. Aliens epic delivers a few thrills and a few laughs. In between the head-slaps, that is.

A pointless prologue establishes that NASA has sent signals to a distant Earth-like planet. One scientist (Hamish Linklater, of The New Adventures of Old Christine, who has the Jeff Goldblum role) warns that this is like the Incas inviting Conquistadors to visit, but he’s ignored.

Meanwhile, a reckless repeat offender (Taylor Kitsch) gets a bit buzzed on his birthday and commits a grand gesture (and very funny) break-in, just to fetch the fair Brooklyn Decker a microwave burrito. It’s jail or the Navy, declares his Navy officer brother (Alexander Skarsgard).

That sets the table for the Hopper brothers’ Navy service, and for the day the aliens come—in big, cumbersome, gear-and-shape-shifting ships that they use to encase a corner of Hawaii and the Pacific in a shielded bubble. That means only three guided-missile destroyers—two American, one Japanese—can halt the coming invasion.

The folks we follow here are the brothers, on different ships; a couple of enlisted sailors, including the obligatory pop-star-as-actress (Rihanna); and Decker in tight jogging shorts as she motivates legless vet Gregory D. Gadson through rehab and back into action because America needs him.

“Let’s see if we can buy the world another day,” he mutters.

And the folks we don’t follow include Liam Neeson, admiral of the fleet and leader of a mass joint exercise that is going on at the time of the attack, a fleet that can’t pitch and is thus irrelevant to the plot and forgotten for much of the picture.

The basic setup owes a lot to Independence Day, the effects play like Transformers: The Next Generation, and the banter occasionally rises to the level of amusing.

Erich and Jon Hoeber, who wrote the script, set up rules for this universe, and then break them. They commit great gaffes of logic in the name of convenience. Actor-turned-director Peter Berg (The Rundown, the original Friday Night Lights movie) had a tough job, ignoring the holes in the plot, staging one clever cat-and-mouse-with-missiles scene to play like the Hasbro board game this is based on, shooting the whole thing like a slick, gray steel-and-sea-spray Navy recruiting film.

And kudos to whoever had the idea of filling this picture with veterans—in the rehab center where Decker’s character work and in other key moments in the movie. Yes, it’s pandering, but it could pay off with the paying customers.

But few will walk out of the theater with much more than the knowledge that they’ve seen one of the goofiest special-effects epics in years, a picture that doesn’t stand up to even a 10-year-old’s scrutiny.

After this and John Carter, Taylor Kitsch should start using his middle initial. A 13-letter name might help explain away his bad luck in blockbusters.

Battleship (PG-13) ★★☆☆☆

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