BATTLE LOS ANGELES is a rare movie. Most movies with really crappy scripts never overcome them. Not only does BATTLE LOS ANGELES overcome it, it almost turns the script into a running joke into itself. But while the dialogue drops bricks into the toilet bowl, Jonathan Liebesman's direction is... hell, I don't want to use the word flawless, because it's not. But it's been a while since I've seen action scenes so well coordinated and riveting as the sequences in BATTLE LOS ANGELES.
The film opens already in the middle of the invasion as Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), First Lieutenant Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) and their platoon of Marines fly in a carrier copter to find civilians in a war zone before it's blown all to hell. The first 20 minutes or so set up the premise of the alien invasion, and introduce us to the members of the platoon. We know who's who by the names on the screen, but the film may as well have titled the characters "Just Married," "Has A Kid," "Virgin," "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," or "Wants To Be A U.S. Citizen." Eckhart, playing "Grizzled War Vet," is retiring after 20 years as a Marine; his last mission out, he lost a bunch of men in an unspecified attack, and the brother of one of those soldiers is in his new platoon and still holds something of a grudge. Then the alien attack begins, and the platoon makes its way to a blown-out police station to help rescue some civilians trapped there before the Air Force bombs the area.
And that's pretty much it for the story. But it's the script by Christopher Bertolini that's so awful - every line spewed is a cliche of some kind, and it's only through the skills of the actors that I didn't burst out laughing. Eckhart especially carries himself well considering he's given lines to chew like Big Red tobacco. Michelle Rodriguez enters the picture as a soldier trying to gather intel on the aliens, and she acquits herself as well as she can given the dialogue.
But Jonathan Liebesman pulls this straight out of the fire by giving us action sequences that had me riveted for the entire film. The aliens in the film aren't unbeatable, just very tough, and Liebesman sets the stakes quickly. One particular sequence, on a highway overpass as the platoon and the civilians try to get to a safe zone, is seriously one of the best action setpieces I've seen in years. Intense and thrilling, and there's genuine peril for all the characters, and suddenly you find yourself caring for them all in spite of the duds that they keep spouting from their mouths. They say you can't polish a turd but Liebesman by God did and the result is a good two hours of quality action cinema. I normally don't abide shaky-cam direction, but Liebesman wisely eases up on that enough so that each action scene has a real sense of geography and tension.
In the end, BATTLE LOS ANGELES turns out to be something of a Marine recruitment film, but it's done in such a fun manner that this liberal bleeding heart didn't mind at all. The actors do the best job they can, and although the script stinks, Liebesman surpasses it and makes a movie that I can pretty much recommend with very little reservation. I had a blast with BATTLE LOS ANGELES, and if you hold your nose a little bit for the dialogue, I think you'll have one too.