Battle: Los Angeles isn’t a remake, but chances are you’ve seen pretty much everything in it before. An alien invasion flick shot in jittery, faux-newsreel style, it serves up a smorgasbord of lamely repackaged movie moments ripped off from other, better films—and little else.
Movie geeks who want to play spot-the-reference will at least have something to keep them busy. The movie, which stars Aaron Eckhart and a cast of relative unknowns as Marines battling aliens in the streets of L.A., starts War of the Worlds-style, with news media accounts of strange happenings—and, eventually, an alien invasion force landing off the coasts of the world’s biggest cities. It finishes much like Independence Day, with a sacrifice-filled battle against a hulking alien command ship, and the subsequent passing along of info about how to beat the rest of the extraterrestrial baddies. (Consider this a non-spoiler: The good guys win, at least if you ignore the destruction of most of L.A.) The vaguely insectoid invaders look suspiciously like slightly modified robotic cousins of the aliens in District 9. Just about everything in between comes across as equally reheated.
Not all of the source material comes from the alien-invasion category of your Netflix queue: Director Jonathan Liebesman previously helmed a prequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and he recycles plenty from the horror genre too: There’s the it’s-only-a-pet fakeout, the reanimating baddie who just won’t die, the moment of relief/levity violently interrupted by a flash of terror. Mostly, though, Liebesman borrows from against-all-odds war movies like Saving Private Ryan and, in particular, Black Hawk Down—hence the gritty, war-torn ambiance. Even the score seems to have nabbed Inception’s thudding foghorn-blast as its primary musical cue.
Maybe if you liked most of those movies, you’ll also like this one? Sadly, I doubt it. Liebesman managed to appropriate a host of familiar scenes and situations from Hollywood's war-and-invasion oeuvres, but forgot to steal a story or characters worth watching. There are a few clever action gags disbursed throughout, but mostly it’s a mish-mash of meaningless military-movie cliches and copycat conflicts any infrequent moviegoer has seen a half-dozen times before. Despite its title, Battle doesn't even bother to deliver an authentic Los Angeles; most of the city scenes were shot in Louisiana on account of the state's generous film subsidies. (Apparently Liebesman is also willing to take money borrowed from taxpayers.)
Worse, the movie can’t even muster the commitment to stand by its own banalities. About two-thirds of the way through the film, Eckhart launches into one of the most earnestly corny monologues in recent movie memory, a brutally cheesy go-for-the-gold motivator about the need to press forward at all costs despite personal rivalries, setbacks, and blah, blah, blah—and then, after a well-placed dramatic pause, says “None of that matters right now.” He’s more right than he knows, though; in this warmed over exercise in cinematic copy-and-paste, very little matters at all.