While not a direct hit, ‘Battleship’ not as off-target as expected

The way it’s being held up as the poster child for everything that’s wrong with the moviegoing experience, you’d swear “Battleship” consisted of two hours of Eddie Murphy in a murky, 3-D fat suit wooing Adam Sandler in drag while some teenager on his cellphone kicks over your $12 popcorn.

It’s not that bad.

Popcorn usually tops out around $8.

(Only kidding, “Battleship.” You just make for such an easy target.)

Here’s a look at the movie in the spirit of the guessing game on which it’s ever-so-loosely based:

Hit: It’s better than “Clue.” Maybe this is a reaction to its staggeringly low expectations, but “Battleship” is even better than it needs to be. Every bit as huge and unwieldy as its namesake vessel, “Battleship” could have jumped straight to the action, which finds aliens from a distant, Earth-like planet lured by deep-space transmissions to the middle of the Pacific – and the middle of international war games. But all that is prefaced by a genuinely entertaining introduction to the major players: black sheep Alex Hopper (“Friday Night Lights’ ” Taylor Kitsch), his decorated older brother (“True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgard), and the physical therapist Hopper loves (swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker), who just happens to be the daughter of the commander of the Pacific Fleet (Liam Neeson).

Miss: “Battleship” still feels awfully familiar, with shades of “Top Gun,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Space Cowboys” and the Michael Bay trifecta of “Transformers,” “Pearl Harbor” and “Armageddon.”

Hit: Bay never wandered anywhere near it. Despite making a gloriously big, loud popcorn movie, director Peter Berg (“Hancock”) shows a tremendous amount of restraint, rarely letting the action devolve into the sort of choppy, quick cuts that made the “Transformers” movies feel like little more than twisted blurs of metal.

Miss: The aliens come packed in slick robotic suits reminiscent of every third video game. And their true form – bald humanoids with porcupine-style goatees – looks like something you’d encounter in the Porta-Potty line at the Electric Daisy Carnival.

Hit: The aliens aren’t purely evil. While they lay waste to anything they perceive as a threat, they spare those without hostile intent. So when they head to a ballfield, relax, the children playing there are safe. Especially the one drinking from a Subway cup – if nothing else, that would just be poor product placement.

Miss: The aliens’ motives are never truly clear. Why are they here? And why are they so angry? What was in those transmissions our scientists sent out, episodes of “Whitney”?

Hit: “Battleship” occasionally winks at overblown action-movie dialogue. When one of our heroes declares, “Let’s see if we can’t buy the world another day!” he’s met with a quizzical “Who talks like that?”

Miss: Then it goes and generates its own cringe-worthy lines. “It’s gonna be like Columbus and the Indians,” a scientist explains, “only we’re the Indians.” And when Hopper doubts his leadership with an “I can’t,” the closest thing to inspirational that screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber (“Red”) can muster is, “If you can’t, who can?”

Hit: Clear eyes, full hearts can’t lose. Berg shepherded his “Friday Night Lights” to the small screen, creating one of the most heartfelt, beloved series in decades. And, here, he lets two of that show’s stars essentially play extensions of their TV characters: Kitsch’s bad boy-turned-reluctant hero Riggins and Jesse Plemons’ awkward Landry. At this point, even the slightest whiff of Dillon, Texas, is worth a half-letter grade. (Had Berg managed to squeeze in Minka Kelly, “Battleship” would have landed dangerously close to an A.)

Miss: Despite the feel-good patriotism of his last-ditch effort to defeat the aliens, Hopper’s plan is full of more holes than a Lindsay Lohan alibi. But you’d do whatever it takes to save the world, too, if it meant getting back home to Brooklyn Decker.

Hit: Even though you know it just had to have been in an early draft of the script, no one ever turns to the camera to announce, “You sank my battleship.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.

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