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'Battle: Los Angeles'

March 9, 2011 at 10:05 a.m.
Updated March 8, 2011 at 9:09 p.m.


Friday 3-11 release () -

By Cary Darling

McClatchy Newspapers

(MCT)

War is hell. And so is alien invasion.

That's the long and short of "Battle: Los Angeles," a distillation of grunt's eye-view, war-movie cliches with nasty, insect-like extraterrestrials standing in for every enemy the Marines have ever faced.

Yet, despite the plot predictability, the boiler-plate "I'm not gonna leave you behind!" dialog, and stretching too close to two hours, "Battle: Los Angeles" builds enough suspenseful tension - especially in its first half - to take it out of contention for the worst LA-gets-leveled splatter-rama to make it to the big screen. "2012" and "Independence Day" are still duking it out for those honors.

Aaron Eckhart is Michael Nantz, a staff sergeant stationed in Southern California who's just days shy from early retirement after a particularly grueling overseas assignment in which several of his men were killed. But, wouldn't you just know it, he can't put his uniform away just yet because that strange meteor shower over L.A.? Turns out it's the first wave of a brutal alien attack.

Nantz and his unit are tasked with rescuing a group of civilians trapped in an abandoned police station behind enemy lines in Santa Monica. They've got three hours to get them out, as that's when the Air Force plans to turn the beachfront city into a bombed-out wasteland.

Of course, his Marines might as well be from Hollywood Rent-a-Soldier. There's the nervous newbie (Noel Fisher, "The Pacific"), the traumatized and stressed-out (Jim Parrack, "True Blood"), the husband-to-be (singer Ne-Yo) who has so much to live for, and a book-smart second lieutenant (Ramon Rodriguez, "The Wire") who - say it with me now - has no idea what real combat is like.

Still, for all of that, the chaotic claustrophobia and the shaky-cam verite realism - despite perhaps summoning the occasional flashback from "Cloverfield" - are effective, especially when the audience doesn't yet know what the aliens look like or what they want. They're just this malevolent force intent on wiping our DNA off the face of the planet.

Eckhart displays the requisite square-jawed G.I. Joe ruggedness and the film generally looks good. Director Jonathan Liebesman ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning"), working from a script by Christopher Bertolini, does a pretty good job of destroying faux L.A. (it was actually shot in Louisiana, but "Battle: Baton Rouge" probably wouldn't have the same global marketing appeal).

Leibesman avoids the usual shots of iconic structures being turned to ash and instead makes the entire landscape a nightmare of twisted overpasses and smoky horizons.

But as more is revealed and one battle blurs into another, "Battle: Los Angeles" becomes less engaging and less of a movie and more of a first-person shooter game with better acting.

Anyone looking for the broader social implications of, say, "District 9" (which shares some visual similarities to "Battle: Los Angeles") or even "Space: Above and Beyond" - the short-lived, '90s Fox series about Marines in combat against faceless, insect-like aliens - is bound to be disappointed.

None of that may matter, though. The door, wide enough to let through a mothership full of angry aliens, is left open for a sequel.

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BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

3 stars (out of 5)

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Ne-Yo, Ramon Rodriguez, Michelle Rodriguez

Rated: PG-13 (sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, strong language)

Running time: 116 min.

___

(c) 2011, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Visit the Star-Telegram on the World Wide Web at http://www.star-telegram.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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