Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Battleship (2012)

"Mahalo, Motherfucker"

Sorry, that is the line that keeps on giving. Uttered by Rihanna (yes she plays some officer character in the film, but let's face it, she was only cast so that people like me could gasp and scream her name everytime she's on screen) late into the film as she prepares to blast an alien ship to smithereens, it captures the essence of Battleship.

Look. Hollywood summer blockbusters can be smart and engaging and entertaining. Just ask The Dark Knight.  But they can also be as crass and stupid as Michael Bay's Transformers sequels. What makes Bay's ilk infuriating is the strange insistence of those movies to take themselves seriously. We're watching giant hunks of metal slamming into other giant hunks of metal. The least you can do is make it as ridiculously silly and glibly entertaining as possible.

This is where Battleship wins. From its opening moments, it plays as a joyous ode to its crash-and-smash bretheren, not just embracing their cliches, but cranking them up to the extreme. Not one line is subtle, not one character underplayed. Characters do really, really stupid things - the opening sequence has Taylor Kitsch getting electrocuted by a tazer gun in his quest for a chicken burrito to impress a girl at a bar. In a later scene he gets electrocuted by climbing onto an alien ship docked in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. No wonder his hair's all spiky.

Great art this is not, and obviously could not have been. Its based on a BOARD GAME for crying out loud. This is where the film has its most ingenious moment - I mean, you'd think that a movie version of Battleship shouldn't have an extended sequence where the characters literally sit and play the game onscreen would you? Because, you know, that would be crazy? And boring?

Well, Battleship doesn't think so, no sir. It goes ahead and does just that, but again, the sheer goofiness of the moment is undercut by how strangely exhilarating it is. And that's what ultimately makes the movie work - if you're willing to embrace how brazenly silly it is, how its still managing to take all of that and craft genuinely exciting and suspenseful action moments, and how it features Rihanna uttering the immortal words - say it again, MAHALO MOTHERFUCKER!!! - well, you've got yourself a winner Hollywood.

p.s. Yes, I am aware that I haven't discussed the plot at all. As you may have realized, awareness of the same is only very incidental to enjoying the movie. In some instances, it may even go against it.

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