I volunteered to go to the preview screening of Battleship in part because I wanted to stare the void of summer movies directly in the eye. Battleship—a movie based on a board game so simple the box assures you that you can understand it if you are 7 years old—surely had to be the epitome of crass, crappy summer product, the kind of movie you could point to as an absolute. I wanted the comfort, the assurance, of knowing that I could go see any other movie this summer, no matter how terrible it may be, and leave the theater saying to myself, “At least it wasn’t Battleship bad.”
Turns out, the void has escaped me again. Battleship is not line-in-the-sand bad. It is merely bad-bad. It’s inept on every single level. Yes, Peter Berg’s direction is still artless and clunky. Yes, the plot is standard alien-invasion tripe, with no motivations or serious thought applied to the alien invaders to speak of. Yes, Rihanna is a giant charisma-crater as Petty Officer Cora “Weps” Raikes (I had to crib her character’s name from IMDB, by the way, because I don’t recall her name, rank, or purpose being mentioned once during the movie). Yes, it’s mostly a giant ad for the US Navy, with tons of America, Fuck Yeah moments that will set conservative boners a-poppin’. But it’s not aggressively bad. Frankly, it’s just generic.
Here’s where I’m supposed to talk about the plot, I guess. Okay. There’s an international Navy convention weekend of some sort off the coast of Hawaii. The main character, played by Taylor Kitsch (who was way better in John Carter, but still manages to make his character somehow likable here), is a fuckup whose hardworking brother forced him into the Navy. In the Navy, he’s still a fuckup. He’s trying to impress his girlfriend’s father, but his girlfriend’s father happens to be the Big Navy Muckety-Muck (Liam Neeson in what’s basically an extended cameo) and man, does he hate fuckups. Personal drama! Suddenly, ALIENS! And a force field that keeps Liam Neeson out and the fuckup in as humanity’s last great hope against the aliens. Can the fuckup save the world, while making sure to somehow shoehorn in a dumb scene that evokes the classic Hasbro board game that “inspired” the movie? Sure. I mean, why not?
If I were to call Battleship a Michael Bay movie with no soul, would you stop reading this review right now? Because that’s what this movie is. The alien tech is pure Transformers knock-off. The giant cast, ineptly introduced with one single motivation per character, is standard Michael Bay shtick. Brooklyn Decker is your average Michael Bay hottie, a blond with enormous breasts who is hot in the way that a Porsche is hot—half the reason men desire her is because they assume that every other man desires her. That house of erotic cards—that straight men get hot thinking about other straight men getting hot thinking about Brooklyn Decker—is about all Decker has going for her, honestly; without even having Rihanna’s token ethnic oh-no-you-di’n’t spunk to fall back on, she is maybe the least exciting thing on a screen packed with unexciting things.
But at least Michael Bay believes in something, even if that something he believes in is a racist, cocaine-fueled hatred of the human race. He at least puts his horrible personality up on screen. Battleship is derivative, boring, sloppy filmmaking. It’s really loud, and visually uninteresting. But there are a few energetic scenes in the third act, when the fuckup stops fucking up and starts learning important lessons about Teamwork and Patriotism and Not Fucking Up and High-Quantity Alien Murdering. And it’s about as inoffensive as it can possibly be, which, come to find out, is really boring.
Sometimes, I play a sadistic little trick on myself when I finish watching a bad movie. I say to myself, what if I were to get hit by a car on my way home and this terrible movie was the last movie I ever saw in my life? Sometimes, this thought alone is enough to inspire me to rewatch a film I love, just in case I get splatted by a Prius or stabbed by a mugger or a hunk of under-construction condo falls on my head and kills me on the spot. I would hate for that ticket stub in my pocket (Dark Shadows, or I Melt with You, or Sucker Punch) to represent the final cultural expedition of my life journey. I certainly don’t want Battleship to be the last movie I watch in this lifetime, but there’s something even more insidious about it—it’s a terrible movie, but it somehow comes coded with a taunt, a reminder that there’s an even worse, even more actively bad movie waiting just around the corner, waiting to leap out and flash its horribleness at me at a relentless, abusive speed of 24 frames per second. The worst thing about Battleship is that I will watch something even worse than Battleship this summer. The void is out there, waiting, calling my name. Sometimes, very late at night, I can hear its sucking sound. Sometimes it sounds like laughter. (And oh, yeah: No one, not even Petty Officer Rihanna, deigns to speak the words “You sunk my battleship.” Rip-off upon rip-off.)