The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Battle: Los Angeles
U.S. Marine Aaron Eckhart saves the day.

We all know a guy who is obsessed with military firepower and who spends way too much time playing first-person shooters on XBox 360. Battle: Los Angeles is a movie for that guy and others like him. I'm going to coin the term "combat porn" to describe it, because the movie seems to exist only to provide cheap thrills to people with an affinity for such things. If you care about plot, characterization, or actual drama, you'll not find it here.

Aaron Eckhart stars as Marine Ssgt. Michael Nantz, who wants to retire after an operation-gone-bad that left most of his platoon dead. Just as he's about to get his walking papers, the planet is attacked by hostile alien beings. Nantz is pulled back into action once again. I'm not kidding when I say that's all there is to Battle: Los Angeles. The fight begins about 15 minutes in, and it goes non-stop until the very end.

I assume you've seen recent war movies. Imagine a typical battle scene from one stretched out to two hours. That's what you get. Constant shaky camera work. Rapid-fire editing so that you become disoriented and can't tell exactly what's going on. Gunshots and explosions in ear-splitting surround sound. Dialogue screamed by the actors so they can be heard above those gunshots and explosions. Debris flying through the air. Snare drum-based military marches on the soundtrack. It goes on and on in such a repetitive fashion that I felt worn out about 40 minutes into the film. For those keeping score, there are 80 more minutes after that.

Director Jonathan Liebesman's previous pictures were Darkness Falls and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, so he's not exactly a filmmaker at the top of the field. Neither he nor writer Christopher Bertolini seem to understand that war movies require ebb and flow. Simply creating a two-hour battle sequence isn't enough. The audience needs to have some sense of why the enemy is attacking, who the good guys are, and what the strategy is for winning. Time must be taken to attend to those elements if we are to become emotionally invested. The combat scenes should accentuate the story, not replace it. Battle: Los Angeles is so intent on bombarding the audience with military action that it really does become almost pornographic. It's one big "money shot."

We've gotten to a weird place with cinema. There's a commercial school of thought that says perpetual motion is good. So many action films are removing things like story and character development in favor of ongoing visceral stimulation. Admittedly, there are people who like it that way, many of them teenage boys. What's hard to understand is why a filmmaker would want to spend a year or more working on something with no plot, or why an actor of Aaron Eckhart's caliber would want to show up and run around with nothing to do.

Watching Battle: Los Angeles is a dispiriting experience. This is an empty, soulless, headache-inducing movie without a single trace of imagination or creativity. Given that pictures like District 9 and Independence Day covered similar terrain so much more effectively, there's no reason to give this piece of crap a shred of attention.

( out of four)

Battle: Los Angeles is rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.