Back in November, I called the forgettable alien-invasion flick Skyline “a decent, campy thrill-ride masquerading as a $100 million movie.” Battle: Los Angeles, in turn, is a $100 million high-action thrill ride masquerading as a Marine Corps recruitment film. And while it’s not entirely worth all the hype it’s getting, it’s infinitely better than Skyline and will certainly keep you entertained.

Anchored by a solid performance from Aaron Eckhart, Battle: LA is an all-out assault on the senses, not the least of which is the vertigo you’ll endure with its herky-jerky camera work, which makes Cloverfield look like a Kubrick film.

The mayhem begins with news reports of a series of undetected meteor showers that are inexplicably only headed for the world’s population centers– well, those that are on coastlines anyway. As the meteors start landing, it becomes obvious that they’re not giant chunks of space rock; them there are alien spacecrafts, and they’re not here to spread good cheer. They emerge from the surf, guns blazing, and before too long, all of Santa Monica has been overrun. And the Marines who had been organized to help residents evacuate from the meteor showers are suddenly thrust into war.

Eckhart starts as Staff Sergeant Nantz who (natch) is on his last day of active duty after a 20-year career. Before he can call it quits though, he’s dragged back in to save the world… or at least the Los Angeles-area portion of it.

His battalion is populated by a dozen other guys, each of whom we learn only cursory information about. One is an African studying to be a doctor (bet that will come in handy later), one has a pregnant wife, one is getting married soon, another is dealing with PTSD. It’s a motley crew, but they’re all gung-ho Marines, and dammit, they will take their country back.

Through news reports we learn that the aliens are probably here for our water supply (since we’re the only planet known to have H2O in its liquid form), and that they’re not going to politely ask for it. They have (as they often do) advanced technology, fast ships, and devastating weapons. While one well-paced bullet will dispatch a Marine, these aliens require a barrage of firepower just to slow them down. All hope seems lost.

The Marines are sent into the fray to rescue a group of civilians before the Air Force (in a matter of hours) levels the entire area with so much boom that the Santa Monica pier will become a distant memory. But the rescue mission quickly becomes a matter of survival, as they realize what they’re up against.

The script by Christopher Bertolini (The General’s Daughter) is pretty ridiculous at times, and it includes the requisite cheesy war movie scenes: “I will not leave you! / “But I need to sacrifice myself for the greater good!” and “You may have a problem with me, soldier, but we need to come together and fight for the good of our great country!” The rest of the script is consists mostly of the Marines shouting things like “Get back!”, “Fire!”, and “Let’s move!”

Director Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) does a great job overcoming the weak screenplay and putting us right in the middle of the action. He presents Battle: LA as a combination of Black Hawk Down‘s gritty war-scape and the over-the-top spectacle of every Michael Bay movie. Liebesman never met a hand-held camera he didn’t like, but for the most part it works, providing an immediacy that sucks you in almost instantly.

Eckhart’s performance is certainly among the most physically-demanding of his career, but he also shows a level of humanity, which (though trite at times) helps ground the film a little. The better-than-average supporting cast includes Bridget Moynihan as a token pretty civilian and Michelle Rodriguez as a tough-as-nails Air Force Tech Sergeant.

The real credit for Battle: LA‘s (moderate) success, though, goes to editor Christian Wagner (Face/Off, Bad Boys). I don’t envy his job (and I imagine he needed a healthy dose of Ambien almost hourly), but somehow he put everything together, and by and large it works.

Sure, there are plot holes that you could drive a bus through (which the Marines actually do at one point), but overall Battle Los Angeles is a rollicking, fun ride that will leave you entertained, even as you pray for the room to stop spinning.

3/5 stars