Even an alien apocalypses can be dull

Film
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES
Cert: 12a

Only in Steven Spielberg’s head do aliens ever come in peace. So here they are invading once again, superior to us in numbers, technology, firepower and tentacles. Just like Independence Day, War of the Worlds, District 9, last year’s terribly bad Skyline, last year’s terribly good Monsters and any other number of sci-fi war epics you can think of.

This is essentially Black Hawk Down with reptilian aliens as the enemy, and Santa Monica standing in for Mogadishu. However, since it’s also rated 12A, it’s got none of the real terror or tension of that film, just the visceral chaos of its non-stop, hand-held, soldier’s-eye-view action. That makes it about one eighth as engaging.

The soldiers in question here are a squad of Marines led by Aaron Eckhart’s lantern-jawed staff sergeant. They’re tasked with rescuing some civilians in Santa Monica as intergalactic meanies sweep all before them.

The soldiers are carrying various bits of emotional baggage drawn straight from the Military Movie Clichés Handbook – this one’s got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that one’s going to retire, another one holds Sarge responsible for his brother’s death, and the perennial Stoopid Inexperienced Young Officer is present and correct. The script has a gung ho factor of 10 but an intelligence factor of about two.

This is big, loud and instantly forgettable. I imagine the forthcoming computer game will be a blast though.

Timothy Barber

THE COMPANY MEN
CERT: 15

Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) has it all: a high-powered job, a six-figure salary and a marriage to Mad Men’s beautiful Rosemary DeWitt. But his glossy, perfect world crumbles around him when he is suddenly made redundant from his job at a global shipping company.

Exploring the human cost of the recession and the corporate downsizing that accompanied it, and predictably questioning Western society’s priorities and aspirations, this drama has a worthy heart. Affleck’s journey from swaggering alpha-male to broken man – a self-proclaimed “37-year-old unemployed loser” – is believable and thought-provoking. If we define ourselves by our jobs, what happens when we lose them?

But it lacks punch, that’s for sure. It can be hard to sympathise with Affleck’s smug jock and his colleagues as they trade in their fancy cars and relinquish golf-club memberships.

One scene in which Bobby’s son gives up his X-Box in a supposed act of solidarity is particularly misjudged.

One could balk, too, at the film’s resolution in which Bobby comes to appreciate the important things in life (family, friends etc) and, lesson learnt, is promptly re-hired by his former boss.

Still, it’s a topical film that’s worth a watch, and will no doubt have resonance for a few in the Square Mile.

Amy Higgins

FAIR GAME
CERT: 12A

BACK in 2002 during the push for war in Iraq the White House claimed that Saddam Hussein had been importing uranium from Niger to make nuclear weapons. Former US ambassador Joe Wilson was sent to Niger to investigate and found it was untrue. When Bush et al persisted in its claims, Wilson went public. At which point vice-president Dick Cheney’s right-hand man, Lewis “Scooter” Bibby, revealed that Wilson’s wife was a deep-cover CIA operative, suggesting she’d sent him on the mission for career-enhancing purposes.

This grubby affair makes for an interesting potboiler that never really reaches the boil. Sean Penn (irritatingly puffed up) plays Wilson and Naomi Watts (very good) the spy who married him, Valerie Plame, and we watch their lives and marriage hit the skids as her cover is blown and the White House attack dog falls upon them.

Whatever one’s sympathies regarding the case for the Iraq

war, the overblown self-righteousness of this film deflates its impetus as a conspiracy thriller, and that’s a shame.

TB