Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

How Rihanna got Liam in her sights

The Ulster star and the Barbadian singer take to the high seas for a fun sci-fi romp, says Damon Smith

Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Liam Neeson, Brooklyn Decker, Tadanobu Asano, Jesse Plemons, Gregory D Gadson, Hamish Linklater, Peter MacNicol, Director: Peter Berg

In the week that Liam Neeson and sultry pop star Rihanna exchanged some rather gushing admiration for one another - the singer describing herself as "starstruck" with the Ballymena man, with Neeson responding accordingly that he thinks she is "cute" - the pair finally hit the big screen in this big budget action thriller based around the children's board game of naval warfare.

The guile and logic of the classic stratgey game provides the unlikely inspiration for a special effects-laden alien invasion blockbuster directed with gusto by Peter Berg.

From the opening shots of scientists foolishly transmitting signals into deep space to scenes of retired US officers casting aside their walking sticks to man a declassified naval vessel, Battleship is preposterous popcorn fodder.

Even the two-dimensional characters acknowledge the ridiculousness of their situation. When one grizzled war veteran - played by real-life double amputee Gregory D Gadson - growls, "let's see if we can't buy the world another day!" a nerdy scientist responds disparagingly, "Who talks like that?"

Neat touches provide tenuous links to the game. The alien's grenades are shaped like the red and white plastic pegs which indicate a hit or miss and screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber ingeniously contrive a real-life contest of search and destroy in the middle of the Pacific as the film's centrepiece showdown.

Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is a dropout, whose antics on the Hawaiian island of Oahu reflect badly on his brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), the captain of the USS Sampson. "It's time for a new direction - you're joining me in the Navy!" barks Stone.

Alex is assigned to the USS John Paul Jones, commanded by Vice Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson, right), who just happens to be the father of his girlfriend, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker). During a series of naval exercises, pitting US forces against the Japanese, extra-terrestrial spacecraft crash-land in the Pacific.

The USS Sampson, USS John Paul Jones and JDS Myoko are dispatched to assess the threat.

The aliens generate a force field to separate the three vessels from the rest of the fleet. Sassy weapons specialist Cora Raikes (Rihanna) and boatswain Ordy (Jesse Plemons) stand alongside Alex, awaiting the order to attack.

Battleship gradually achieves a brisk rate of knots and once the aliens enter Earth's atmosphere, director Berg orchestrates carnage on a grand scale.

Kitsch is far more likeable here than as time-travelling hero John Carter, and Rihanna mucks in with the boys, gamely throwing herself into the frenetic action scenes.

The script's attempts at humour elicit weary groans and the plot is riddled with holes.

But Battleship is all about the spectacle and delivers - with all guns blazing.

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