Less Transformers, more Act of Valor, director Peter Berg's Battleship is a bombastic, idiotic and ear canal-shattering love letter to the Navy, slathered with a summer blockbuster sugarcoating that sufficiently masks any glimmer of heart. Following suit with their previous adaptation Transformers, toy company Hasbro has transformed their popular board game into a sci-fi action movie as stiff and lifeless as the plastic pieces used to play. The saving grace is Berg's fondness for the ridiculous, injecting Top Gun-level machismo into his tale of aliens vs. boats. Silliness is cinematic buoyancy for a movie as lazy as Battleship.
Continually finding himself in trouble's way, roughneck Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, of TV's Friday Night Lights and John Carter) enlists in the U.S. Navy alongside his boy scout brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgård), and under the supervision of his lady friend Sam's (Brooklyn Decker) overbearing father, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). Alex works his way up the chain of command quickly, earning the rank of Lieutenant just in time for the annual competitive skirmish with the Japanese Navy. It's all fun and games until per usual aliens drop down from the stars and wreak havoc on Hawaii. With most of the fleet trapped on the outskirts thanks to a ship-proof forcefield, Alex is forced to command his own ship and take down the intergalactic adversaries with old school style. Discombobulated radar in alien waters means Alex and his team are shooting blind will B11 be a hit or a miss?
Kitsch spends most of his time rubbing shoulders with Petty Officer 'Weps' (Rihanna) and the rest of his diligent crew, whipping up ways to defeat the alien forces who only go on the offensive when attacked. That's just the beginning of the storytelling's illogic, moment after moment favoring Michael Bay-inspired mayhem and tensionless spats of screaming aboard the ship's bridge over coherency. There's an Independence Day-inspired moment where an alien creature palms Kitsch's face, unleashing imagery of their devastated home planet to his mind. Maybe? That never comes back, and an explanation of why the aliens are here, why we're fighting them or if they're really that bad at all never comes into play. Kitsch and his men just know the world's under attack and we have to blow the opposition to smithereens.
Ensuring attentive brains are never too focused, the perspective in Battleship is ever-shifting, jumping from Alex's Destroyer to Sam and her paraplegic rehab patient Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, together on the run from alien ground troops. Around Battleship's halfway point, when the duo partners with a twitchy scientist (Hamish Linklater) and Mick rises above his disability to beat the living daylights out of an extraterrestrial, is when Berg throws his hands in the air, stops caring and pulls out all the stops. Giant alien roller balls that rip up everything in their path? Check. Bouncing space ships that can only be combated using water displacement theory? Check. Navy vets returning for one last job? Check check. Before the finale of this 131 minute monstrosity, Kitsch and his Japanese counterpart Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) sit down to play an actual game of Battleship. Sure, it's with actual missiles, but there's a grid, there's a target and there's shouting out of corresponding numbers. For those worried about board game fan service, it's there (but don't sit around waiting for the infamous tagline).
Unlike his turn in John Carter, Kitsch is perfectly suited for the bro atmosphere of Battleship, where every moment of drama begs for hammy delivery and crazy eyes. Decker too is an asset to the overly epic blockbuster a step up from the reductive arm candy roles of the Transformers movies. Everyone else is barely a blip on the radar; Neeson is deprived of a single badass moment, while Rihanna proves she can memorize and playback scripted lines as well as pop song lyrics. Berg has control of his action in a way that's more enjoyable than the previous Transformers films, but it still plays like a tired clone. The initial two-thirds of Battleship that takes itself too seriously is exhausting. The final barrage is pure lunacy. Whether you can stay afloat for that long is the true test of heroism.