As I noted recently, it’s been a long time since our household made the proper commitment to a good ol’ fashioned Bad Movie Night. Our tradition is long and honored: a double feature, preferably with some sort of link and heavy encouragement to merciless mock all that plays out on the screen. When we settled down for the night atypically early, we took our shared commitment to whittling down the material on our overstuffed DVR as impetus to dive into some of the material we’d collected specifically because we thought it might suit our more malicious, misanthropic, and misogynistic cinematic habits. Beer at the ready, we dove in.
And what better place to start than with Battleship (Peter Berg, 2012), one of the more notable bombs of the past few years. Part of the increasingly absurd notion that every recognizable brand should be fodder for big screen mayhem, this sci-fi actioner supposedly takes its inspiration from the classic board game. Yes, there are battleships in it, and some of the explosive weapons hurtling through the air vaguely resemble the pegs that were shoved into either plastic sea vessels of embedded cubes of blue, but it mostly seems like a generic riff on Transformers shoved into a different package from the next aisle over in the toy section.
I’m tempted to argue that the plot makes no sense, but it’s actually too simplistic to be confusing in the slightest. There are navy guys, including the obligatory rebellious rule-breaker (Taylor Kitsch), out on maneuvers. Then aliens attack as big robot monsters from the sky. And that’s about it. Yeah, there are subplots, including the rebel’s hope to marry the hot daughter (Brooklyn Decker) of the gravel-voiced and boulder-brained Commander of the U.S. Fleet (Liam Neeson, further away than ever from his Oscar-contending days) and, well, I’m sure there’s another subplot in there somewhere. Maybe not, though, given that most of what comes out of the mouths of other characters is so inconsequential that one website volunteered for the task of cataloguing every line of dialogue uttered by Rihanna as a crew member. Only five of the sixty-eight lines contains more than a total of ten words.
The original plan called for making it a Hasbro night, since G.I. Joe: Retaliation is just sitting out there. Instead, we realized we had the opportunity to experience the totality of Kitsch’s very bad year of attempted blockbuster stardom (he also appeared in Oliver Stone’s Savages in 2012, which also doesn’t look good, but ultimately belongs in a very different category). So we opted for John Carter (Andrew Stanton, 2012), maybe the year’s most notorious attempt to launch a franchise and a potent argument against giving skilled Pixar filmmakers the keys to live-action vehicles.
The notion of adapting the adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s planetary-displaced warrior had been kicking around for a while. It was reportedly Stanton’s passion for the product that finally brought it to expensive fruition, with Kitsch burdened with the title role. Stanton certainly directs the film like a true believer. Indeed his zealotry is so complete that it is evidently beyond his ken that anyone might find the material completely ridiculous. It doesn’t help that his collaborators in the art and costume departments deliver work that recalls the campy nonsense of 1980’s Flash Gordon. The goofiness packed into the frame accentuates the worst elements of the script, including the dopey framing sequence conceit that Burroughs himself is learning about all this from a journal left to him by his late Uncle John. The most problematic aspect of the storytelling, though, is that its dreadfully boring. Even on a Bad Movie Night — maybe especially on a Bad Movie Night — that remains the worst sin a film and a filmmaker can commit.