May 18, 2012 at 9:23 AM ET
REVIEW: The audience at my screening of "Battleship" cracked up whenever an allusion was made to the board game that loosely inspired the movie. They laughed when the Hasbro logo came on up screen, when aliens fired weapons shaped like pegs, and when a character called for a strike on "Echo-one-one" and it came up on the computer screen as "E 11." (Miss!)
"Battleship" plays like the kind of dream a kid might have if he or she fell asleep after a rousing round or two of the game. Where do the pegs come from? Why can't the two opposing sides see each other? How come everyone only has five ships? All these questions are answered, kind of, and whoever's in charge of Hasbro's rule book should get promoted for shoehorning so many actual game references into the script. (Sadly missing: Liam Neeson never yells "You sank my battleship!")
But like the game itself, "Battleship" the movie offers up nothing more than a simple old good time. It delivers decent performances even from unexpected quarters -- singer Rihanna and swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker do fine, with Rihanna playing the tough-military-woman role we've seen Michelle Rodriguez do so well (and before her, Jenette Goldstein as Vasquez in "Aliens"). Taylor Kitsch is sure to have better success with this film than with mega-flop "John Carter," but he's outacted by everyone on screen, including the ships.
The film smartly never takes itself too seriously -- when grim vet Mick Canales (played by real vet Gregory D. Gadson, who lost his legs to a Baghdad bomb) delivers the oh-so-heroic line, "Let's see if we can buy the world another day," another character responds "Who talks like that?"
That's what's fun about "Battleship." Sure, it's ludicrous that aliens are shooting explosive pegs at our ships, and that they've somehow created a protective dome over only a certain part of the Pacific Ocean, and that we just happen to be engaging in a military exercise there with the Japanese, who once attacked us on those very waters. And how convenient that a group of elderly vets with knowledge of pre-modern technology ships are on hand when needed, providing a lump-in-the-throat, go-get-em-Grandpa moment.
But in for a peg, in for a pound. If you're willing to engage your summer-movie brain, and to cheer aloud at lines like "We've got a battleship!" and "I need to borrow your boat," "Battleship" is a hoot. Bring on the inevitable 3-D film version of "Hungry Hungry Hippos"!
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