There’s only a shockingly small collection of board-game movies, considering how profitable and prolific the sibling genre, the video-game-based movie, has been. Clue did it, Jumanji sort of did it, and one can presume Jenga and Operation are soon to follow if Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, and, most importantly, parent company Hasbro know what’s best for them.
But, finally, a new entry has emerged, attempting to unite turn-based strategy, naval and sci-fi fanatics worldwide. Can Battleship make an unscathed transition from your cousin’s basement to the silver screen?
Battleship was invented in the postwar 1940s as a pencil-and-paper game involving the strategic, or random, placement of ships of varying sizes on a 10-by-10 grid. One attempts to select – or “fire a missile” at – a co-ordinate inhabited by one of the other player’s ships. It was souped-up in the sixties – becoming an actual board with plastic ships – and in the eighties with whiz-bang “talking” electronics and a memorable TV commercial featuring a dejected father moaning to his gleeful, winning son: “You sank my battleship!”
The movie version shares the game’s simplicity, random plotting and strategic marketing but, mainly, this Battleship gives new meaning to the in-name-only adaptation, pitting a surprise armada of violent alien ships from “Planet G” against the Earth-defending U.S. Navy, which thought it had a fun day ahead of playing international “war games.”
Battleship has its moments, like the rare occasions when it nods to its origin: There’s a nice eureka when we learn that evil alien ships can be outwitted, improbably, by plotting co-ordinates on a grid, à la your granddad’s board game. Even cheesier, a retired old clunker of a battleship eventually gets to shine in the face of adversity – as do elderly veterans, a determined real-life amputee named Mick (Gregory D. Gadson), a racially persecuted Japanese captain named Nagata (Tadanobu Asanu), nerdy NASA guys, and pop singer Rihanna’s Gatling-gun-toting, Die Hard-quoting Officer Raikes.
There are several pat and predictable reconciliations between characters, and too much uninteresting dialogue about “mysterious” aliens to wade through – plus, oodles of nauseating jingoism and slow-motion heroism.
Also disappointing is the scant presence of Liam Neeson as the admiral in charge of the fleet. The plot involves the admiral’s objection to the relationship between misfit Lieutenant Hopper, a by-the-numbers bad-boy heartthrob played by Taylor Kitsch, and his daughter Sam, played by Esquire-approved “sexiest woman” Brooklyn Decker, and it’s thoroughly telegraphed from the get-go. One can be sure that heroic characters get what they want, bond with enemies, and earn respect. There's not a lot of tension between aliens and humans either.
Skillful conductors of mayhem, director Peter Berg and his music composer Steve Jablonsky try to manipulate the audience by alternating from victories to defeats with music that slows down to incorporate mournful bugles. At least the alien missiles look like the pegs from the board game.
Special to The Globe and Mail
- Directed by Peter Berg
- Written by Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber
- Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker and Liam Neeson
- Classification: PG
- 2 stars