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The Battleship board game I remember playing as a kid never had this many explosions or confrontations. Naturally there would be some conflict, fists would fly, sores and bruises tended to. That’s what you get when you take on your brothers. There was a giddy sense of accomplishment when you hit your opponent’s boat, metaphorically blowing them out of the water by uttering a letter and number. Yet Battleship the film, based on the board game, lacks that feeling. It ends up being little more than a succession of admittedly impressive set naval set pieces and a barrage of action movie clichés. The best compliment I can give it is that it is miles better than Transformers 2 and 3. Faint praise indeed.
The film opens with NASA satellite project beaming a signal to deep reaches of space in search of intelligent life – something that never goes down well in a movie. Fast forward a few years and brothers Alex and Stone Hopper (Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skaarsgard) take part in international naval exercises off the coast of Hawaii which is looking as stunning as ever. Alex is a bit of a loose cannon while his brother is a commanding officer of a ship so it’s no surprise that there is some unsolved issues between the two of them – not that it’ll matter much once the nondescript aliens arrive in reply to that beamed signal.
From here on in the movie switches to battle mode. And it’s here where you’ll either hate or love or be mildly entertained by what’s on screen. For every moment that starts to get the adrenalin pumping, there are snaps of dialogue or whole scenes that bring the film crashing down. Director Peter Berg does an admirable job in attempting to keep it running along smoothly but he can only do so much with a script that is mired with plot holes and a constant feeling that this is a spin off of Transformers on the sea.
I still don’t know what to make of Kitsch. I’m not sure if it’s the projects he’s taking or acting but he hasn’t clicked for me as a leading man. His performance here is more akin to his great work on Friday Night Lights, his character’s bearing similar traits. He seems more at ease in his role than with John Carter but he still lacks that spark to carry a film. Skaarsgard fares slightly better, playing the honourable one and Rihanna comes out rather unscathed, though her role requires her to run and shout obvious lines for most of the running time. It’s not so much a gimmick as simply unnecessary. Why exactly is she there? And Liam Neeson plays Liam Neeson except this time he’s an Admiral.
The best moments of the film come when Berg recreates the Battleship game itself. The use of naval tactics inject these sequences with much needed suspense and it’s actually quite smart. You can tell that a lot of effort was put into to make it as realistic as possible. Everything works in these moments, from the action to the acting and the script. The writers have to be commended for being able to manoeuvre the film into a position so it can actually do what the title promises. If it weren’t for these moments, and they are few and far between, Battleship would be pretty much a miss.