by: Dominick Mayer
I’m an ardent defender of the colossal mainstream movie misfire. (Alliteration!) This started when I was a kid and couldn’t understand how Entertainment Weekly was making so many mean jokes about Wild Wild West, or how Waterworld wasn’t the coolest thing ever. Later, I would come to regret the former and defend the hell out of the latter, and over time I’ve found many more of those films, movies that were clearly strong of purpose or at least strong of cash-grabbing vulgarity. When they fall on their faces, it always upsets me, because they’re frequently more entertaining than most of the mid-road releases that are neither good nor bad and fade from one’s memory within a few months, lost to the ether of memory until they’re discovered again at some barroom trivia night.
There are definitely ties to camp value here; I saw last year’s Taylor Lautner vehicle Abduction (a film in which nobody is abducted at any point) more times than most of the films on my year-end best-of list, and The Happening is among the funniest movies of the past decade. If those films are the unsung comic heroes of a generation, then last weekend’s Battleship might just be our Airplane. By now you know the deal: Hasbro, fresh off its colossal success with the Transformers trilogy, decided that more film-toy tie-ins were a great idea, because who wouldn’t love the return of horizontal integration? First off the assembly line is Battleship, which is basically just Transformers with boats and displays even less attachment to its source material. Which, lest we forget, is a fucking board game.
Battleship isn’t doing well financially in the U.S. (though it’s cleaning up quite nicely around the world), and will surely be a hacky Leno punchline within the week, if it hasn’t been already. (They write themselves, really. “Looks like Battleship is sinking fast.” “America sunk this Battleship.” “Battleship? More like BATTLESHIT.”) That said, I would like to pose some arguments for why you should be seeing this movie, or at least planning on making it an elaborate drinking game. It may not be enjoyable for its intended purpose, but I’ll be damned if it’s not a hell of a lot of fun.
(SPOILERS, I suppose.)
1. Because Taylor Kitsch is having a really, really bad year that he really doesn’t deserve. First John Carter virtually murdered his chances of being a marketable leading man (because, you know, the cast was the reason that movie flopped, and not Disney treating it like a red-headed stepchild), and now Battleship ensured that pretty much no one will take him seriously. I quite enjoyed Carter, a stance I’ve argued adamantly on the internet, and Battleship shouldn’t be enough to sink Tim Riggins, even if it likely will be. (Sink. Lulz.) But hey, at least he can go back to underwear modeling and make more money than most of us will ever hold in our hands at one time.
2. Rihanna’s American accent, and how after a while she just drops it like a phoned-in John Malkovich performance. Also, the beautiful monologue in which, in the middle of a really half-assed alien autopsy, and apropos of nothing that anybody else is discussing, she tells the tale of how “My father told me that they would come.”
3. The fact that a cast member of Miranda July’s The Future somehow ended up in Battleship. (It’s Hamish Linklater, and he actually gives the movie a little bit of life.)
4. The fact that Alexander Skarsgard is barely in the movie, and Liam Neeson’s appearance as John Carter’s imposing future father-in-law is a glorified cameo. I know a few people who fleetingly hoped that there’d be some Taken-style alien throat punching, but alas. This may not sound like a reason to see it, but it’s hilarious how the film’s few drawing points quickly disappear so that Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker and the dude from those Alltel phone commercials can battle aliens inside a huge bubble.
5. The disaster movie dialogue. A while ago, a friend observed how the Hillary Swank vehicle The Core, if read as a parody of disaster movies, was one of the best screenplays ever written. I’ll argue the same for Battleship, but to an even stronger degree; this is a movie that features not one but two “We’ll all die someday…but not today!” soliloquies, and they happen 30 minutes apart at most. Other gems: “Who must I call to teach you humility!” “You need discipline. You need structure. You are joining the Navy!” “So now we’re blowing up Hawaii?”
6. The fact that it’s a two-hour recruitment video for the Navy. Because it seriously is. Battleship is pretty much the phrase “America, fuck yeah!” as a two-hour film, and not even this year’s Act of Valor, which was actually made as a recruiting tool, was this much of a recruiting tool. Evidence: The moment in which, bereft of any remaining ships, they commandeer a WWII-era destroyer, which is manned by old Navy veterans, who also get to join in on the one-liner fun and alien destruction.
7. The fact that the aliens’ bombs, which lodge into boats and then rip through them, look like pegs. Also, the moment in which they use sonar buoys to shoot blindly into the darkness, and map out each buoy on a grid, and you realize that they’re actually playing Battleship.
8. The ending, which neatly ties up all loose ends, plays some Band of Horses and totally forgets about the whole contact with other civilizations and near-apocalypse thing, because John Carter is still scared of talking to Liam Neeson.
Dominick Mayer is a graduate student in Cinema Studies at DePaul University, an associate music editor and film critic at HEAVEmedia, an after-school robot class tutor to small children and a partially disgruntled mailman. He’s also really into professional wrestling and hip-hop and will subject you to tirades should you be foolish enough to broach either subject in his presence. He can be found on Twitter at @HEAVEdom or contacted at email@example.com.