On paper or board, Battleship is a simple but engrossing game that is basically a test for spatial reasoning and more than a little bit of luck. Two players try to figure out where the other player has placed his or her 'fleet' on the grid, and the first to sink the entire fleet wins.
As a movie Battleship however, sacrifices these simple pleasures to tell an unbelievably bombastic and hopelessly silly story about an alien invasion and how it falls to a cocky young upstart in the United States Navy to finally save the earth.
As the film opens, said cocky young upstart is Alexander Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, who in his second role as an action hero this year after John Carter), who as once a young ne'er-do well who fell for Samantha Shayne (Brooklyn Decker), the beautiful daughter of Admiral Shayne (Liam Neeson). In order to be taught responsibilty, Alex's brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard) forces him to join the navy, where he eventually achieves the rank of lieutenant despite his ongoing problems with leadership and discipline.
The weird thing about Battleship's screenplay by Jon and Erich Hoeber is that it seems to start off as a sort of naval romantic comedy where a young scoundrel joins the Navy to win the heart of the Admiral's daughter and eventually proves himself a hero in a frivolous challenge at the end of the day. Not here: instead, Samantha seems to fall for Alex instantly despite daddy's objections, and most of the film is spent with everyone trying to deal with an alien invasion in the middle of an international Naval War Games exercise. So seventy years after Pearl Harbor, the Americans and Japanese now find themselves on the same side against alien invaders, even if they are possibly the strangest, most inefficient and inept galactic invaders seen in a while.
How strange, inefficient and inept? These aliens basically arrive with three basic types of ammunition: sonic waves that can destroy glass, what look like tons of giant flying canisters that embed themselves in their targets before detonating, and giant balls of spinning blades that basically destroy infrastructure and even take care not to harm inorganic material. Someone give them a tactical nuke and make their plans of world conquest far easier, please. In personal combat they tend to use none of their sophisticated ammo, and settle for hand-to-hand combat, which leads to a sequence where one of them eventually goes mano a mano with a legless ex-boxing champ sailor. I'm not making any of this up. Their eyes are sensitive to sunlight, but they have made no contingency plans for a scenario where a couple well delivered sniper bullets can destroy the anti-UV ray glass panels on their ships. Given their proclivity towards solely the destruction of infrastructure and non-organic material, these intergalactic invaders are less conquerors, and more like a bunch of scavenging petty criminals. Go easy on them, I say. These implausible antagonists are just a taste of how the Hoebers have written one of the most wildly implausible, confused and unwieldy screenplays in while, without even a rudimentary sense of mythmaking, that renders the film's story nearly dead on arrival and journeys into oblivion from there.
Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights) who once worked with Michael Bay tries to ape Bay's style here, with Bay's wild camerawork, over-the-top showmanship and a distinct cornpone militarism but with even flimsier worldbuilding than can be found in Bay's rudimentary plotlines. It might actually have you pining for Bay.