Battleship - John Tui, Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna
Battleship - Extremely hostile aliens discover that world domination is a hard game to win when confronted by Beast (John Tui), Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and Raikes (Rihanna) © 2012 Universal Studios

After a generic half-hour that introduces a well-meaning lunkhead destined for heroism, his centerfold-stacked girlfriend and some other stock humans, the real stars of this spectacular sensory assault arrive: awesomely huge alien spacecraft that take up positions off the coast of Hawaii.

Those all-sharp-corners shape-shifters have a lot in common with Transformers, but this fellow Hasbro production is less little-kid-friendly than that franchise. Giant robots beating each other up is one thing, but Battleship‘s sometimes scary-real violence puts it in an almost “action-horror” genre.

Drunk slacker Alex Hopper (John Carter‘s Taylor Kitsch) tries impressing huge-busted Sam Shane (Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker) by stealing a burrito. Arrested for his efforts, he is convinced by his exasperated Navy commander brother Stone (True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgärd) that it’s time for “game change.” In a narrative leap dispensing with weeks of character development, Alex is next seen as a clean-cut Navy lieutenant preparing to ask Sam’s gruff Navy admiral dad (Liam Neeson) for Sam’s hand in marriage.

Battleship - Brooklyn Decker
Sam Shane (Brooklyn Decker) is a hero’s girlfriend of truly heroic proportions © 2012 Universal Studios

First, though, there are international military exercises to undertake. Unwelcome visitors are alien ships attracted by a NASA beacon project begun when a distant Earth-like planet was discovered. Skittish scientist Cal Zapata (The Future‘s Hamish Linklater) warned against the idea, arguing that our first contact might turn out to be a Columbus and the Indians scenario in which “we’re the Indians.” But who listens?

The monolithic alien mothership throws a miles-wide force field around itself and various naval vessels. The rest of the movie consists of a dwindling number of our world’s watercraft attempting to take out the invaders, while Sam, Zapata and a legless Army vet (real-life Lt Col Gregory D Gadson) keep evil ETs from using mountaintop satellite dishes to phone home.

Director Peter Berg (Hancock) keeps the stuff-blowing-up scenes infinitely more interesting than what passes for exposition, and the silly plot depends on the aliens’ baffling decision not to destroy Alex’s ship when they have the chance. Then again, nobody buying a ticket to this thrill ride will expect intellectual stimulation.

Singer Rihanna makes an unimpressive acting debut as a surly weapons specialist with too much makeup. The nearly unintelligible Tadanobu Asano is Japanese destroyer Captain Yugi Nagata, who has an unfortunate bathroom encounter with Alex — no, not that kind — but later becomes his best battle buddy.

Although popcorn-movie powerhouse The Avengers includes a similar urban onslaught and other alien invasion unpleasantness, the destruction here is sometimes more disturbing than comic-book exciting. Easily traumatized toddlers won’t soon forget gigantic buzzsaw yo-yos that dismember ships, destroy freeways and shred a military base, for example. Interestingly, more than one scene features a child face to face with mechanical monstrosities that would make them wet the bed for weeks thereafter.

On the plus side, the movie appealingly references Hasbro’s Battleship with numerous overhead shots of the ships, grid displays on monitors and alien missiles that resemble the game’s distinctively shaped pegs. And the way the movie gets around the fact that there are no battleships in the present-day US fleet is corny but genuinely clever.

An after-credits scene, however, is such a painfully predictable sequel-tease you don’t even have to see it. Maybe some shawarma would have helped.

Battleship gets its US and Canada release in theatres on Friday May 18, 2012. UK release was on April 11, 2012, and Australia April 12, 2012.

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.