Aaron Eckhart as Sgt. Michael Nantz
Ramon Rodriguez as 2nd Lt. William Martinez
Cory Hardrict as Cpl. Jason Lockett
Gino Anthony Pesi as Cpl. Nick Stavrou
Ne-Yo as Cpl. Kevin Harris
James Hiroyuki Liao as LCpl. Steven Mottola
Bridget Moynahan as Michele
Noel Fisher as Pfc. Shaun Lenihan
Adetokumboh M’Cormack as Corpsman Jibril Adukwu
Bryce Cass as Hector Rincon
Michael Peña as Joe Rincon
Michelle Rodriguez as TSgt. Elena Santos
Neil Brown Jr. as LCpl. Richard Guerrero
Taylor Handley as LCpl. Corey Simmons
Joey King as Kirsten
Lucas Till as Cpl. Scott Grayston
Kenneth Brown Jr. as Cpl. Richard Oswald
Jadin Gould as Amy
Joe Chrest as 1st Sgt. John Roy
E. Roger Mitchell as Company Captain
Rus Blackwell as Lt. Col. K.N. Ritchie
Susie Abromeit as Amanda
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Alien invaders have appeared off the coast of California and Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) and his far less experienced commanding officer Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) must lead a band of rookie Marines into the thick of war-torn Santa Monica to rescue a group of survivors before the entire area is decimated.
War movies seem to have disappeared with the world truly being at war and alien invasion movies have become more prevalent with audiences looking for escapist entertainment from same, so it was only a matter of time before someone created a clever amalgam of the two that thrives on its high concept more than it does on its originality or quality storytelling.
“Battle: Los Angeles” throws us headfirst into an alien invasion and the massive destruction that comes along with it before flashing back 24 hours and introducing the Marines who will play the focal point for our foray into war-savaged California. Like the best war movies, it takes the time to introduce all the characters, giving each of them distinct personalities while in some cases resorting to the most obvious and overused clichés. Once the soldiers start encountering the well-armed aliens and the bullets start flying, the point of even bothering to give them names goes out the window as you can’t really tell who anyone is and the soldiers with the most personality are killed and forgotten before they really have any moment to shine.
Throughout the fighting, Aaron Eckhart utters every line through gritted teeth, as the rest of the young actors run around yelling and shooting at CG aliens. When things slow down and they’re forced to actually talk to each other, that’s when things go south pretty fast with acting that ranges from weak to atrocious. Maybe that’s to be expected when you make up your cast with everyone from pop singers to actors from television and indie films – “The Thin Red Line” this is not. Most of them are just fine when “playing soldier” but few of them can handle anything resembling drama without sounding like they’re in a theater school exercise. The one exception is Michelle Rodriguez, who does what she does best and shows up most of her male cast without batting an eyelash. By comparison, Michael Peña is normally a much better actor but his casting as a civilian, a businessman with a son, is an odd decision, and it leads to one of the most ludicrously awful moments as Eckhart tries to bond with the kid. Eckhart’s Patton-inspired motivational speech shortly after that isn’t much better and he’s supposed to be the best actor in the bunch.
Even so, Jonathan Liebesman clearly has grown as a director, working with a crack FX and stunt team to effectively realize the intended “Black Hawk Down” meets “Predator” premise with impressive alien creature and tech design and enough explosion-laden action setpieces to satisfy any fan of war movies. The abundant use of CG is surprisingly well-integrated with the practical locations. In that sense, creating realism is paramount to the concept working and Liebesman does this through things like television broadcasts that show the scale of the invasion and the terror of those experiencing it, as well as military tactics that feel real.
Unfortunately, it’s also a movie that’s hard to watch due to the erratic shooting styles, taking the shaky handheld Paul Greengrass docu approach at first then switching to stylishly lit scenes one might expect from Ridley Scott or Michael Bay. Ultimately, the cheesy writing and bad acting makes it feel far more like the latter than the former, especially because the lack of credible emotions from the actors forces Liebesman to resort to the overly melodramatic film scoring one normally expects from a far worse film.
The Bottom Line:
Fans of “Call of Duty” might appreciate the familiar territory, but what is an otherwise decent war movie is marred by unforgivably bad writing and even worse acting, so all it really has going for it are the explosions and action.