Battle of Los Angeles (2011) – Review by Roger Froilan

Once in a while, a little known fact from the past surfaces and sparks people’s imaginations.  The picture from Los Angeles in 1942 of anti-aircraft guns opening fire on a mysterious object is one of those things.  Hundreds of people witnessed this action, and a good portion of California was put on a state of alert with air raid sirens blasting everywhere.  Was it a Japanese plane? A blimp? A squadron?  To this day, the US army has not revealed what really happened.  Therefore, filmmakers find this a good source to build a story from.  If I’m not mistaken, it also partially inspired Spielberg’s film ‘1941’, which was hilarious take on what would happen if the Japanese invaded the US after Pearl Harbor.

Okay, aside from the fact that aliens invade Los Angeles for unknown reasons, and human soldiers battle them for survival, this movie surprisingly has little to do with the recent theatrical blockbuster, ‘Battle: Lost Angeles’, which was also inspired by the below photo entitled ‘Battle for Los Angeles’.

It’s really too bad that Syfy doesn’t make any effort to craft good stories.  They certainly can make movies, but they don’t put enough effort in them to make them better or even great.  Produced by The Asylum, ‘Battle for Los Angeles’ really suffers from this, and it’s too bad because there are so many good elements to the film.  A popcorn potboiler, it definitely makes for a fun evening on a Saturday night with the family, but don’t expect a huge amount of depth to the story or characters.  Not that the depth isn’t there… you’ve got a pilot who’s been grounded for unknown reasons (and thank God, because we need him later in the story), a pilot who is almost too terrified to fly his plane once he sees the invaders coming, a hot Majestic Agent who wears a catsuit and wields a katana, and another pilot who time travelled from the 1940’s to present day, but seems curiously uninterested in this fact.  I wanted to know MORE about these characters, but I’m sure they needed room for commercials, so all expository information was left on the cutting room floor.

The producers should have chosen a different name for the film, even though it’s more closely based on the actual incident, because right away the audience has preconceived notions about it.  I suppose it was an attempt to cash in on the box office champ, but that’s really too bad because the film did have a lot of potential.

‘Battle of Los Angeles’ starts out with a familiar scene: a giant alien mothership hovers over the main skyscrapers of Los Angles.  US warplanes are deployed as the ship starts to lay waste to the city.  The pilots fire missiles, but the missiles are caught by the ship and sent back against the planes.  One of the pilots tries to warn the command center, but of course, they ignore her warnings, telling her to get away because bigger missiles are coming in.  This course of action fails miserably, but the pilot ignores her orders, and vainly tries to stop the missiles that are now being used against us.

Cut to a National Guard base on the outskirts of L.A.  We meet the main characters: hot shot second string pilot Solano, played by Theresa June Tao, who channels her inner Vasquez; Edward DeRuiter plays Armstead, the pilot who practically craps his pants and can’t seem to bring himself to start his plane; and Lt. Tyler Laughlin, played by Kel Mitchell (of ‘Keenan & Kel’ fame), the aforementioned grounded pilot who is not allowed to jump into the fighter planes with the rest of his squadron.  Robert Pike Daniel, who plays Commander Wakes, tries his darndest to channel R. Lee Ermy, but simply doesn’t pull it off, and is the most laughable of the bunch.  The best acting came from Darin Cooper, who plays Captain Hadron, and my favorite character of the film.  I really believed him as the hardnosed military commander, and his good performance speaks for itself.

Once the National Guard base is wiped out, Captain Pete Rodgers arrives from the 1940’s, seemingly unfazed by this fact.   In a cool moment you very rarely see in genre films, Commander Wakes puts the pieces together right away, and totally figures out that Rodgers is from the past, and knows that Rodgers must be delivered to MJ12 (UFO aficionados will remember that the Majestic Agency, in real life, is supposedly the top secret organization begun after the Roswell incident of 1947).  So now, the goal is to get Rodgers to MJ12 and figure out how to beat a seemingly invulnerable enemy that uses our own weapons against us.  Along the way, we meet Karla, played by Nia Peeples, the sword wielding MJ12 expert whose uniqueness adds character to the film.

There are moments, like I mentioned before, where things suddenly don’t make sense: after the survivors encounter Karla and make introductions, a scene later we’ve got two other MJ12 agents with them?  (Huh?  Where’d they come from?).  In a later fight, burning alien goo is splattered on some of the characters and suddenly Karla has to wear an

eye patch (what?  Was she injured?  It didn’t seem it…).  But, this does give her a cool look, reminiscent of DarrylHannah from Kill Bill.  And there’s also a great scene where Solano is injured, arm bleeding, lying on the floor and the characters are just standing there looking at her.  My family and I were screaming at them to help her!

The special effects are surprisingly good, with only a few exceptions.  It looks like they saved the budget for the mothership and alien fighter planes shot (oh, and did I mention there’s a nifty giant monster at one point?  That looked good, too).  But in doing so, some of the matte shots in the middle of the movie suffer as a result, and are painfully obvious.

Battle of Los Angeles doesn’t really rip-off much sci-fi either, although there are some nice nods to ‘War of the Worlds’, ‘Independence Day’, and even ‘Lost in Space’ – when the humans manage to commandeer an alien fighter, it powers up and the sound effect is literally the same sound as the Jupiter 2 from the classic TV series!!

The end result was that I was disappointed, not in the writing, but because I was left wanting more explanations.  I watched it with the wife and kids, and they found it enjoyable and entertaining, so I guess that was Syfy and The Asylum’s goal all along.  Mark Atkins, the writer/director, does a good job of creating an entertaining film that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve seen it all before.  I’d love to see a director’s cut with the expository scenes added back in!


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