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Movie Reviews

Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles

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March 22, 2011
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U.S. Marines protect their turf against an invasion of space aliens

Starring Aaron Eckhart, Michael Peña and Michelle Rodriguez 116 min. Rated PG-13

If the central idea of a movie can be expressed in just a few words---or, even better, in the title itself---it’s considered to be high concept. A high-concept movie doesn’t require a lot of explanation for someone to understand what it’s about. It’s high on idea, low on noggin work.

Like “Battle: Los Angeles.”

As you’ll grasp instantly, it’s about a battle, and set in Los Angeles. Specifically, it’s about a platoon of U.S. Marines defending their California turf against aliens. And I’m not talking about undocumented immigrants. These aliens come from outer space, toting some serious not-of-this-world firepower, and they’re in no mood to negotiate.

Aaron Eckhart plays Staff Sgt. Michael Nance, the clenched-jawed, combat-hardened 20-year veteran of the group. And wouldn’t you know it: The ink is barely dry on his retirement papers when that offshore meteorite shower turns out to be something far more ominous.

The dutiful but reluctant sarge, pulled back into action just when he thought his last tour of duty was behind him, is only one of several combat clichés in “Battle Los Angeles,” which resembles many “traditional” war movies in its casting stereotypes, simmering personality conflicts and acts of heroic battlefield self-sacrifice.

Michelle Rodriguez (Ana Lucia on TV’s “Lost”) arrives at the movie’s midpoint as a tech sergeant with an important hunch about how to disable the aliens’ command centers. Michael Peña plays one of a handful of civilians, including two children, the soldiers are charged with evacuating before an alien-infested area gets blown to smithereens by the U.S. Air Force.

There are several impassioned, hoo-ha, men-at-war speeches, constant explosions and gunfire, and rubble, rubble everywhere. Shaky, handheld camerawork gives the viewer an unsteady, you-are-there sensation of dodging bullets and other projectiles along with the characters. It sometimes feels like a videogame, with a gritty, grunt’s-eye-view of the kill-or-be-killed battle zone.

The aliens themselves are a mysterious lot. They look a bit like cosmic cousins to the ones from last year’s “District Nine,” tall, spindly and insect-like. But we rarely get a good, up-close look. They’re usually at a distance, an ever advancing extraterrestrial army of ground troops backed up with some serious aerial support---lethal, unpiloted, people-seeking drones.

It makes for a lot of high-concept bang-bang, boom-boom, not a lot of character development or situational nuance, and unless you’re a real action-movie junkie, probably not your idea of a good time.

But in a modern era as America weighs “appropriate” measured responses to a rogue’s gallery of despots across the globe, it’s somewhat refreshing to watch a bunch of gung-ho G.I.s rippin’ and roarin’ and gettin’ it done, unequivocally united against a foe that’s unmistakably, irredeemably bent on wiping out American life as we know it. There’s no room for diplomacy or even discussion on this movie’s hard, life-or-death line between good guys and bad guys.

If “Battle: Los Angeles” sometimes resembles a promo film for the U.S. armed forces, that’s OK. If ever there were a time, place and situation to root, root for the home team, this would seem to be it.

So eat some leatherneck lead, E.T.---and semper fi, space scum!

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