A war movie with science fiction trappings, Battle: Los Angeles is unfortunately a missed opportunity mired in cliche, banality, and cornball sentimentality.
It hits the ground running, quickly (too quickly) introducing most of the characters in-between faux coverage of a bizarre meteor shower that quickly turns out to be the vanguard of an alien invasion. (In an intriguing bit of social commentary, it turns out they want our resources — specifically our water.)
Veteran, soon-to-be-retired Marine staff sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) and his platoon are assigned to rescue a group of civilians from an overrun police station and take them to safety before an Air Force carpet bombing levels Santa Monica. Of course, the mission is quickly snafued.
Battle: Los Angeles delivers well on the action front, with enough gunplay, explosions, and military hardware to make Michael Bay envious. Liebesman makes good use of handheld camera and a chaotic, smoked-filled urban battlefield that’s effectively claustrophobic and daunting, and the platoon’s tension in this forbidding environment is often palpable.
Much like District 9, the movie does a seamless job of blending a carefully measured amount of CGI effects into a realistic setting. Shot on celluloid rather than digital video, it sometimes has the look and feel of a documentary, giving the close-quarters combat scenes added impact.
Unfortunately, what could have been a genre-bending hybrid of Cloverfield and Black Hawk Down falls short on every other front. The characters are strictly B-grade war movie stock, each with a hastily delivered, tissue-thin backstory. Screenwriter Christopher Bertolini hasn’t yet mastered the cinematic shorthand that made the battle-hardened grunts of Aliens and Saving Private Ryan so compelling and lifelike. The gyrenes of Battle: LA are largely cardboard cut-outs delivering dialogue so clunky you can hear the word processor keys clacking away in the background. It makes it difficult to relate to them, and the onscreen deaths of those sacrificed to demands of the plot (what little there is of one) fail to strike a chord. We’re left with a lot of thud and blunder, and not much else.