Battleship, the children’s board game of naval warfare, is brilliantly simple: hunt and sink your opponent’s ships of varying classes within a 10x10 grid.
This test of guile and logic provides the unlikely inspiration for a special effects-laden alien invasion blockbuster directed with testosterone-fuelled gusto by Peter Berg.
From the opening shots of scientists foolishly transmitting signals into deep space to stirring 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 Colonel Gregory D Gadson, growls patriotically, “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 centre-piece 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, under the watch of Vice Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), who just happens to be the deeply disapproving father of his girlfriend, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker).
During a series of competitive 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 under the command of Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) are despatched 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 on their destroyer, 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 to justify the water-logged 200 million dollar budget.
Cities are razed in a miasma of digital trickery and the cast perform impossible feats to escape the devastation with barely a chipped nail.
Kitsch is far more likeable here than as the time-travelling hero of John Carter, and Rihanna gets down and dirty with the boys, gamely throwing herself into the frenetic action scenes.
The script’s attempts at humour elicit weary groans (“You’re saying ET wants to ‘phone home?”) and the plot is riddled with gaping holes.
But Battleship is all about the slam-bang spectacle and Berg’s film delivers, guns a-blazing.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 6/10
Released: April 11 (UK & Ireland), 131 mins