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Reviews: 'Battleship,' 'The Dictator,' 'What to Expect When You're Expecting'

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POSTED: May 23, 2012 10:06 a.m.
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'Battleship' is just plain bad.

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BATTLESHIP

*

The massively budgeted, heavily hyped and supremely awful Battleship isn't the first time the Hasbro game has been seen in some form on the big screen. In 1991's Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, one sequence spoofs the classic chess match from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal by having The Grim Reaper play the board game against Ted ("You have sank my battleship!" the Reaper bitterly concedes). And in 2004's Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, two college cuties engage in an imaginative - and utterly disgusting - game they call "Battleshit."

The Harold & Kumar variation would have served nicely as the actual name of this new film, which could easily be mistaken for a Transformers sequel except that it's missing Shia LaBeouf's distinct hairdo. Peter Berg, who used to be a mediocre actor before morphing into a mediocre director, apparently wants to be the new Michael Bay (oh, for a time when filmmakers looked up to Hitchcock and Hawks instead!), and I guess give him credit for succeeding. With awful dialogue, dull characterizations and snooze-inducing visual effects -- yeah, I'm not so proud that I can't admit to uncharacteristically dozing off for a few minutes during one of the endless battle sequences - Battleship is the sort of mindless mayhem that's defended by fans as "perfect popcorn entertainment." Sure, if you like your popcorn burnt and sticking to the bag. But to tag this as a worthy summer blockbuster is the equivalent of spitting in the faces of Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron or any other filmmaker who used to expertly do this sort of thing on a regular basis.

A virtual remake of last year's piss-poor Battle: Los Angeles, this adds aliens to the board game template, with our military might going up against dastardly e.t.'s bent on destroying the world - or, more importantly, the American way of life. Battleship is jingoistic nonsense that shamelessly panders to every demographic -- teen boys will ogle at the special effects (and at former model Brooklyn Decker), young women will dig hunks Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgard (playing unlikely brothers), R&B fans will be excited at the prospect of Rihanna making her film debut (the verdict: meh), and older audiences who should know better will feel all warm and faux-patriotic when the film drags out geriatric naval officers to help fight the invaders.

As far as I know, this is only the second movie that's been based on a board game, with Clue having paved the way back in 1985. Let's hope they wait another 27 years before bringing a third one to the screen - it'll take that long to mentally prepare myself for a celluloid take on Hungry Hungry Hippos or Parcheesi.

THE DICTATOR

**1/2

Love it or hate it, Borat, the 2006 mockumentary that turned Sacha Baron Cohen from a minor cult figure into a bona fide star, pushed the envelope in new and unexpected ways. And while it registered as a disappointment, so did Cohen's 2009 Bruno, which again found the filmmaker placing a fictitious character in real-world settings. It was probably too much to hope that The Dictator would operate in the same fashion, and indeed, Cohen has added something to the picture that prevents it from completely succeeding: a plot.

The early going is hilarious, as we witness how Cohen's Admiral General Aladeen rules the North African country of Wadiya (that is to say, cruelly and ineptly). But formula filmmaking quickly sets in. Aladeen's right-hand man (Ben Kingsley) plots to have his leader assassinated so the West can tap the country's vast oil supply; the scheme really kicks into gear when Aladeen arrives in New York to address the United Nations. Instead, he winds up hiding out, aided by a spunky feminist named Zoey (the talented Anna Faris, stymied by a drab role) and hoping to stop the simpleton who's doubling for him from signing a contract that would turn Wadiya into a democracy.

The picture never runs completely dry -- a sequence aboard a helicopter is simply priceless, and Aladeen delivers an amusing speech in which the similarities between Wadiya and the United States are made pretty clear -- but even long before Aladeen starts making puppy-dog eyes toward Zoey, it's clear that finally, perhaps irrevocably, Hollywood has conquered Sacha Baron Cohen rather than the other way around.

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING

*1/2

Following in the footsteps of He's Just Not That Into You, Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve comes What to Expect When You're Expecting, another all-star idiocy that strands a number of good (and some not-so-good) actors in several thematic vignettes of competing dopiness. This adaptation of Heidi Murkoff's nonfiction guide is a tad improvement over the aforementioned titles, largely because it doesn't go out of its way to insult the intelligence of its viewers. That's not to say the picture is particularly funny or insightful, but at least it's relatively painless.

Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez, deemed first among equals (in other words, they're the only performers here who receive top billing and aren't integrated into the rest of the alphabetically arranged cast) are two of the five women facing the prospect of mommyhood. Diaz's fitness guru is pregnant, as are Elizabeth Banks' author, Anna Kendrick's food-truck manager and Brooklyn Decker's trophy wife. For her part, Lopez's photographer is planning to adopt an Ethiopian baby. All five women have somewhat supportive - and extremely vanilla -- husbands or boyfriends, so don't expect to see any single moms here. Also don't expect to see any gay couples, any discussions of abortion (even though one struggling character unexpectedly finds herself with child), any worries about the financial hardships of raising an infant (Lopez loses her job but lands another one in precious little screen time), or any suggestions that childless folks can be just as happy as ones in possession of little bundles of joy.

Like Battleship, this movie must cater squarely to Middle America; otherwise, what was the point of making the darn thing?

 

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