Review: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the Battle: Los Angeles screening I attended was Danny DeVito’s presence. Danny DeVito – a supremely underrated actor and director – is just about the last name that comes to mind when I think of derivative science fiction – especially the kind of derivative science fiction that makes Roland Emmerich look like Aeschylus and Battlefield Earth look like Kitchen Sink realism. But there he was, walking out the doors just behind me and archly humming the theme song – his response to this remarkable cinematic travesty. Since Danny DeVito is a professional, and cannot speak ill of a terrible movie, I don’t wish to suggest that Danny DeVito didn’t enjoy the film. But I put forth to you that when a man of his talent reacts like this, this is probably not a sign that Battle: Los Angeles is the 2001 of our time.

What the hell was Danny DeVito doing at the screening? What the hell was I doing at the screening? I obviously can’t speak for Danny DeVito, but I suppose I was there for the cheese. Then again, the closer I get to forty, the less this answer feels legitimate. Even though I still enjoy laughing at terrible dialogue, which Battle: Los Angeles has in droves. “No promises in combat,” barks Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (played by Aaron Eckhart as if Nantz were more of an easily ignored plastic chair rather than a flesh-and-blood character). “This is insane,” says another marine, who has not been given adequate dialogue to express what we already fucking know is insane. “I miss him….every…,” wails Eckhart later in the film. He may have been referring to Neil LaBute. “They ambushed us like they knew our frickin’ addresses,” says Tech Sergeant Elena Santos (played by the now officially typecast Michelle Rodriguez). Santos, by the by, is the only woman soldier here. And she’s not even an interesting soldier like Private Vasquez in James Cameron’s Aliens. (In fact, being a tech sergeant, she doesn’t even get to gun anybody down until the end.) If that gender disparity isn’t troublesome enough, consider that Nantz gets to say “fucking” while poor Santos only gets “frickin’.’ Where I come from, real women say “fuck.” Alas, this is a 21st century reality lost on writer Christopher Bertolini and director Jonathan Liebesman, who seem to have confused a relentlessly shaky camera for authenticity.

I pretty much lost it when Aaron Eckhart shouted, “Marines never quit,” in his gruff, here-for-the-paycheck bark. But, hey, I had to find my pleasure somewhere. The pleasure certainly wasn’t there in the explosions, which grew tedious, or the characters, which proved to be forgettable despite the X-Files-like captions, or the feeble explanation for the alien invasion, which involved using fuel for water, or the weak military system the alien race sets up, which involved a laughably stupid command center to generate power, or the dialogue, which only served to repeat obvious points.

Given such wretched qualities, cheese is a decidedly immature draw. I should know better at my age. But Danny DeVito is well over forty and he probably came for the cheese too. I was sitting too far away from Danny DeVito to hear if he was laughing. But when I started laughing, during a remarkably terrible and long Eckhart monologue attempting to rally the survivors, I noticed that others started laughing. Perhaps I gave a few audience members permission to laugh. Sony certainly did its best to pretend that this was a worthwhile film, being somewhat more aggressive with confiscating phones (who would pirate this piece of shit?) and even employing a warmup guy to get the audience to reply back “All right” before the screening. Since I had come to this screening as a reviewer, I felt that replying “All right” was inappropriate and not especially journalistic. Still, I can’t blame the studio for doing everything in its power to salvage a turd. On the other hand, a turd is still a turd. As turds go, Battle: Los Angeles is probably one of those turds well on its way to the sewer system by now. So it was probably an unwise decision for the filmmakers to include a plot point involving the Los Angeles sewer system, which only served to remind the audience that they were wading through shit.

Can I find one good thing to say about this failed hodgepodge of Predator, Independence Day, and Assault on Precinct 13? Well, I’ll certainly try. At one point, Nantz cuts away at an alien’s anatomy, trying to find the weak spot. My vast steadfast boredom dissipated for a few moments, and I wondered if the filmmakers would come up with something fairly creative. Maybe the aliens might have a unique digestive system. Perhaps a tentacle might emerge from the carcass and attack the humans. Perhaps the humans could morph into another form. But the only thing these hacks could come up with was a position to shoot at and weapons that were surgically attached to their bodies. And if you can’t be fucking bothered to come up with even some half-assed idea of an alien culture, then why go to the trouble of making the film in the first place?

If this movie had any real courage, it might have killed off its kid characters or shown one of the felled aliens genuinely suffering. Real war is more complicated than the simple-minded malarkey of blowing shit up. Is it too much to ask for even a small dose of All Quiet on the Western Front, Paths of Glory, or Platoon in a movie like this? These days, it is.


  1. That’s a shame. The trailers and ads make it feel more along the lines of the superb DIstrict 9. I might see it just because after the glut of Oscar films nothing has remotely captured my attention, but if you’re right then color me disappointed.

  2. This guy needs to learn how to write…there are so many grammatical and structural errors I’m surprised he is supposedly a “credible source”.

    And can we please think about reality? If aliens ever decided to attack, whats gonna happen? Are we gonna sit down and worry about what we say, “dude, you didn’t say enough, say somethin’ else so we can be ‘real’ over here.”

    That’s what is wrong with people today: they think that by examining the fine details of lines in movies because it’s supposed to be fake doesn’t mean we can have movies that act real. I’m sure Battle: LA will be a much better movie than this guy gives credit for, because I’m sorry, but reality isn’t gonna be perfect sir…

  3. By all means, “Alex,” please point out my grammatical and structural errors. Better yet, let me suggest a few improvements to your comment. The apostrophe you missed in “whats.” [sic] Although I advise against double negatives, you really mean “CAN’T have movies,” not “can have movies.” There’s the period you failed to include within quotes. Why not “dialogue” instead of “lines in movies?”

  4. Dear Edward,

    All the way home from that screening we both attended I found myself wondering, “who was that pudgy, balding adonis with the brilliant turn of phrase, the sly wit, and the bewitching nose hairs?” So I set my agent to work locating you and now I am planning to cast you in a film of considerable merit and importance. You will play the twin roles of narrator and third chihuahua. I admit it will be a CGI movie, but it will, nonetheless, be of considerable merit and importance.

    Danny Devito

  5. “Edward”: (colon goes on the outside of the quotation marks, Mr. Grammarandpunctuation) I’m pleased that you’re sucker enough to check in case it really was “me.”

  6. Actually, the way it was billed I though it would be a modern retelling of War of the Worlds in the sense that it’s an analogy for the American neocolonial occupation. That is – the Aliens confuse us in LA by using shock and awe, as if the Iraq invasion and occupation was happening in California.

    I’m disappointed, although that would have been a truly courageous move.

  7. Have you ever talked to a Marine in combat? That’s the type of shit we say. “Marines don’t quit” and “move to live” and a bunch of chessy-yet-motivating one-liners to get each other going and keep everyone in the fight… hell that shit gets said in training too! While you feel like the dialog was lacking, I closed my eyes and felt like I should’ve been taking Nantz’s orders even though I’ve been out of uniform since 2008. They all came off sounding real… and real Marines don’t talk about fighting during a fight… we just fight!

  8. @AJ that is what you get when a moron who has never served in combat and doesn’t understand the mentality of what it takes to be a man and a solider decides to critique a military themed movie. I have been out since 2003, but I know exactly what you mean HOOAH!!!

  9. AJ and Jeremiah: If you want authentic military dialogue, check out the first half of FULL METAL JACKET — in which R. Lee Ermey improvised much of it. Or watch THE LAST DETAIL. I guarantee you that there’s more manhood in this scene than in a single moment contained within BATTLE: LOS ANGELES (and note the juxtaposition of “Whoa there, sunshine,” which could be a cliche, but in Towne’s hands becomes memorable):

  10. Did anyone else notice, when they went underground at the end and it was night and a few minutes later they came out it was daytime? This movie was absolutely AWFUL!

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