Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: American Warships

Those of us who are cursed to occasionally find ourselves in the mood for an Asylum mockbuster could do worse than American Warships, which came out the same time as Battleship and likewise concerns naval warfare with aliens—in this case, centered on the aging USS Iowa. Cheap and dumb by any measure, American Warships nonetheless displays minimal competence in story, pacing, some of the dialogue, and the leads' acting.

The leads in question are Mario Van Peebles in the Adama role (oh yeah, this movie also completely rips off the BSG pilot) and Carl Weathers in the "Trapped Forever in the Situation Room" role. Both actors maintain total seriousness throughout, which feels more forced coming from Van Peebles—but maybe that's just because he spent the whole shoot dreading the line "You're not gonna sink my battleship." Whatever the case, they're both perpetually watchable and they mostly retain their dignity, no matter how hard the rest of the film tries to strip them of it. Though I am still perplexed by Weathers' grizzled-prospector-style profanity.

If you've seen other Asylum mockbusters, you know to expect laughable and tiresomely-repeated special effects. On that score American Warships doesn't fail to disappoint. Yet it seems they may have actually shot this on the USS Iowa (since they had to come up with a whole big justification for the historical plaques they evidently weren't allowed to remove—and if you've seen BSG then you know what that justification is already). So for those with even a little interest in military history and hardware, there's some eye candy at least.

Even American Warships' approach to its story is less ludicrous than we've come to expect. The aliens, you see, have cloaking technology, and are using it to impersonate North Koreans (which, well, whatever) in an attempt to get the U.S. to nuke the planet. Now, that's definitely ludicrous, but to the writers' credit, they spend time extrapolating all these elements in a more or less plausible way. I actually found myself nodding and saying, "Wow, yeah movie, that sounds about right" once in a while. The scenes taking place aboard the alien ships are likewise interesting, at least for a few moments, from a creature-design perspective. So somebody in the production actually invested some effort in research and creative invention—which is kind of impressive not only because it's an Asylum mockbuster, but because it's a mockbuster of a movie based on a friggin' board game. You give me that screenwriting gig, and I promise, I will never find a way to give even one-tenth of a fuck.

Occasional signs of effort aside, though, there's not much worthwhile here—it's only intermittently terrible enough to provide good riffing fodder (the line reads from Van Peebles' XO are reliably amusing, though). Even the secondary cast members fail to completely embarrass themselves—they certainly do no worse than the supporting casts of any number of high-budgeted summer not-so-mock-busters. Secondary cast standouts include the head historian girl, the Secretary of Defense, and Van Peebles' love interest (and we might recognize the latter actress as the reporter from Star Trek: Enterprise). The Navy SEAL actors, though, are much more typically Asylum in their overzealous intensity.

I'd therefore have to call this a textbook case of a movie not quite being bad enough. By any objective measure, American Warships is a superior film to, say, Mega Piranha—but the latter is far more fun to watch.

Star Score: 1.5 out of 5

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