"Battle: Los Angeles" has figured out how to make a gung-ho tribute to the fighting spirit of U.S. troops - just add aliens.
Ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have yielded not a single "Sands of Iwo Jima" or "Saving Private Ryan," not even a "Where Eagles Dare." (Paging Alistair MacLean).
For the most part, contemporary war movies focus on the heavy psychological and mortal cost paid by our troops ("Stop Loss," "The Messenger").
It's understandable that filmmakers want to look honestly at the complete picture, but it's also understandable that audiences have stayed away from these downbeat movies (even "The Hurt Locker") in droves.
Enter "Battle: Los Angeles," which recreates the vibe of the old-fashioned studio WWII programmer by replacing Nazis with extraterrestrials.
Spaceships land in the water off L.A., and armored creatures roll up the beaches D-Day style, sweeping through the city, killing civilians and hastily mobilized Marines.
Leading the Marines is Sgt. Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), notorious at Camp Pendleton for having lost several men on a bloody mission overseas.
"Battle: L.A." follows Nantz as he slowly regains his confidence and convinces his nervous men to trust him as the battle escalates.
The idea of the squad leader wrestling with combat demons is pretty dog-eared, and "Battle: Los Angeles" grabs war-movie cliches with gusto.
At the same time, for a PG-13 movie, it is weirdly, jarringly graphic. There are copious shots of dead Marines and charred civilians, and "Battle" wavers disconcertingly between the corny and the hyper-real.
In fact, the movie apes a lot of urban-fighting shots and situations from "Black Hawk Down," and looks like its going to end just as badly, until Michelle Rodriguez arrives with a rifle and a bunch of grenades, and we instantly understand that, for the aliens, it's pretty much over.
Note to future invaders: Forget our command and control, air defenses, and nuclear arsenal.
If you want to conquer earth, you must first knock out Michelle Rodriguez.