'Battleship': Not as Bad as It Should Have Been

And that may be the biggest disappointment of all.

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As the great Anton Ego notes at the conclusion of Pixar's Ratatouille, the critic—in any field—thrives on, well, criticism. Negative reviews are relatively easy to write, and often great fun to read. I confess that it was with this in mind that I decided to attend a screening of Battleship.

This summer, after all, holds out the promise of astonishingly few sure-fire stinkers. The Dark Knight Rises, Brave, Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman, Rock of Ages, Total Recall, The Bourne Legacy—some will no doubt disappoint, but all share at least the possibility of being solid entertainments, if not more. Anyone looking for a film truly worthy of a critical broadside would be a fool to forsake so large a target as Battleship.

'Battleship' has a few likable gags, and a hokey, genial air, particularly in comparison to the sour tone of its Hasbro cousin.

The omens could hardly have been bleaker. Start with the initial plan to turn a 45-year-old board game—which had been a pencil-and-paper game for a generation before that—into a $200 million summer tent-pole, despite its complete lack of plot or characters. (What's next? Hangman? Wait, forget I said that.) Then there was the notion to depart from the entire premise of the game—two evenly matched maritime fleets stalking one another—in order to substitute an invasion by an alien armada. (Was George Lucas employed as an uncredited creative consultant?) And finally, there was the decision to open the film abroad five weeks before it opened stateside, which is a bit like premiering a big Broadway play in rural Manitoba.

The movie's title sequence is hardly any more promising, twice advertising loudly that what we are about to watch is a Hasbro property. (What could possibly go wrong?) After a bit of halfhearted exposition—astronomers find an Earthlike planet orbiting a distant sun; they try to contact it, ignoring the lone naysayer who cautions that any life there might prove unfriendly—we find ourselves in a bar. There, Stone Hopper (upright Naval commander, played by Alexander Skarsgård) is lecturing his brother Alex (hotheaded layabout, played by Taylor Kitsch) on the importance of doing something with his life, when in walks Sam Shane (Sports Illustrated swimsuit model-like blonde, played by Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker). Sam wants a chicken burrito, and when the bartender tells her that the kitchen's closed (thwack slams the microwave door), Alex decides that what he wants to do with his life is to get her one. To that end, he engages in criminal trespass, larceny, and the extreme (if inadvertent) vandalism of a nearby convenience store. But he gets Sam her burrito, even if he has to hand it to her while being brutally tasered by police. It's actually a moderately amusing sequence, especially for anyone who recalls the viral video of a genuine theft on which Alex's antics are loosely based.

Cut to an undisclosed time later. Alex is now a clean-cut naval lieutenant stationed in Hawaii, and he is planning to propose to Sam as soon as he can get permission from her stern admiral father (Liam Neeson). Alex's felonious indiscretions on behalf of Sam's burrito are not mentioned again, nor is it explained how he avoided incarceration and became an officer. If you're the kind of person who asks such questions, this is probably not the movie for you. Naval maneuvers involving the fleets of several countries (hello, international market!) are about to take place, but not until after the completion of a soccer tournament (hello? hello?).

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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