War is hell. And so is alien invasion.
That’s the long and short of “Battle: Los Angeles,” a distillation of grunts’ eye-view, war-movie cliches with nasty, insectlike extraterrestrials standing in for every enemy the Marines have ever faced.
Yet “Battle: Los Angeles” builds enough suspenseful tension — especially in its first half — to take it out of contention for the worst L.A.-gets- leveled splatter-rama to make it to the big screen. “2012” and “Independence Day” are still duking it out for those honors.
Aaron Eckhart is Michael Nantz, a staff sergeant stationed in Southern California who’s just days shy from early retirement after a particularly grueling overseas assignment in which several of his men were killed.
But, wouldn’t you just know it, he can’t put his uniform away just yet because that strange meteor shower over L.A.? Turns out it’s the first wave of a brutal alien attack.
Nantz and his unit are tasked with rescuing a group of civilians trapped in an abandoned police station behind enemy lines in Santa Monica. They’ve got three hours to get them out, as that’s when the Air Force plans to turn the beachfront city into a bombed-out wasteland.
Of course, his Marines might as well be from Hollywood Rent-a-Soldier. There’s the nervous newbie (Noel Fisher, “The Pacific”), the traumatized and stressed-out (Jim Parrack, “True Blood”), the husband- to-be (singer Ne-Yo) who has so much to live for, and a book-smart second lieutenant (Ramon Rod- riguez, “The Wire”) who — say it with me now — has no idea what real combat is like.
Still, for all of that, the chaotic claustrophobia and the shaky-cam verite realism are effective, especially when the audience doesn’t yet know what the aliens look like or what they want. They’re just this malevolent force intent on wiping our DNA off the face of the planet.
Director Jonathan Liebesman, working from a script by Christopher Bertolini, does a pretty good job of destroying faux L.A. (the movie was shot in New Orleans). He avoids the usual shots of iconic structures being turned to ash and instead makes the entire landscape a nightmare of twisted overpasses and smoky horizons.But as more is revealed and one battle blurs into another, “Battle: Los Angeles” becomes less engaging and less of a movie and more of a first-person shooter game with better acting.