Review: 'Battle: Los Angeles'

(One-and-a-half stars)

If what you're looking for is two hours of things-go-boom jingoistic claptrap, "Battle: Los Angeles" is for you. On the other hand, if you're at all concerned that you may have seen it all before, trust that instinct.

The science-fiction actioner opens with a cacophony of media voices, cheesily punctuated with the commentary "One thing is clear: The world is at war." I'd call that line "'Battle: Los Angeles' for Dummies," but it'd be just as clear to call the movie itself "'Battle: Los Angeles' for Dummies."

Here's what happens: A meteor shower off the coast of Tokyo turns out to be the first salvo in an alien invasion. With San Francisco and San Diego conquered, Los Angeles is the last bastion of the West Coast. Only the U.S. Marine Corps can save us now!

The details are entirely predictable, from the broad swath of macho theatrics right down to the insectoid rattling of the aliens. It's mostly "Hoo-rah!" and "We're at 'Threatcon Delta.' That's right!," with regular urban shootouts occasionally interrupted for pep talks and weary feints at character drama. (Most laughably, screenwriter Christopher Bertolini pauses for 30 seconds to provide a token discussion between Marines about how the aliens are probably just like us, then returns to blowing them to bits.)

Aaron Eckhart plays Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, who -- get this! -- just turned in his retirement papers (go ahead, roll your eyes -- I'll wait). For good measure, Nantz carries survivor's guilt from recently losing his platoon overseas, including the brother of one of his newly assigned charges. (Awk-ward!) The rest of Nantz's new unit is full of characters with Conspicuous Reasons They Can't Die, including unclaimed virginity and an imminent wedding.

A few familiar faces crop up: Michelle Rodriguez ("Avatar"), Bridget Moynahan ("I, Robot"), Michael Pena ("Crash"), and pop star Ne-Yo. But the affordable cast isn't the draw. Rather, "Battle: Los Angeles" follows the playbook of "Independence Day" and "Godzilla," as filtered through the more manageable budget of "Cloverfield." Monsters come to your town and take heavy artillery, as Soldiers and Relatable Innocent Civilians duck for cover.

Directed with reasonable but never surprising efficiency by Jonathan Liebesman ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning"), "Battle: Los Angeles" feels like a shoot-'em up video game crossed with "24," since the gun-toting prowling occurs mostly in real time, under the countdown threat of a bomb set to raze Santa Monica. Though the film may or may not bomb with audiences, it is neuron-rotting brain candy: an empty action exercise made up of empty calories. That'd be fine, if only it were sweet.

Rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language. 1 hour, 54 minutes.

— Peter Canavese

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