Two Thrillers from Sony
Battle Los Angeles (June 13/11)
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, Battle Los Angeles details the chaos that ensues after vicious aliens attack our planet - with the film primarily following a core group of Marines as they attempt to stop the marauding invaders from obliterating Los Angeles. It's an inherently compelling premise that is, at the outset, employed to relatively watchable effect by Liebesman, with the filmmaker's difficulties in transforming the film's protagonists into wholeheartedly sympathetic figures initially not as problematic as one might've feared. (The hopelessly interchangeable nature of the central characters ultimately does prevent one from actually caring once they inevitably start dropping like flies, however.) The passable atmosphere is heightened by the early inclusion of a few admittedly strong sequences, with the creatures' first attack, seen via a CNN broadcast, certainly packing a visceral punch and, seemingly, paving the way for a stirring alien invasion picture. It's only as the movie shifts to the Marines' down-and-dirty exploits that Battle Los Angeles begins to lose its hold on the viewer, and there's little doubt that the film's turning point is a firefight between the soldiers and a small group of aliens - as Liebesman infuses the scene with a virtually incoherent feel by overusing both shaky camerawork and rapid-fire editing. The film is, for the most part, subsequently dominated by action set pieces of a similarly excessive and downright unintelligible nature, which, when coupled with an almost unconscionably overlong running time, ultimately ensures that Battle Los Angeles fizzles out long before it reaches its tedious, anticlimactic finish.
Wicked (June 14/11)
Though it starts out with a fair degree of promise, Wicked eventually morphs into a seriously tedious suburban thriller that wastes the talents of its admittedly impressive cast - although this inevitably proves to be the least of the film's many transgressions. The busy storyline follows the residents of a well-to-do gated community as their lives are shaken up by a brutal murder, with the emphasis consistently placed on the progressively oddball exploits of a moody teenager named Ellie Christianson (Julia Stiles). Director Michael Steinberg, working from Eric Weiss' script, immediately captures the viewer's interest by stressing the soap opera-ish comings and goings of the various characters, and there's little doubt that the decidedly (and irresistibly) salacious atmosphere is heightened exponentially once the aforementioned murder occurs. It is, as a result, easy enough to initially overlook the movie's missteps - eg Cliff Martinez's distractingly off-kilter score, the excessively deliberate pace, etc - with the film's transformation from affable melodrama into interminable mess triggered by the increasingly head-scratching behavior of Stiles' character. (Weiss' inability to get inside Ellie's head makes it impossible to understand why she's doing what she's doing, or, worse still, why her father doesn't make the slightest attempt to stop her.) The pointless and downright silly third act cements Wicked's place as a disappointingly interminable endeavor, with Michael Parks' typically idiosyncratic work as a quirky detective standing as the movie's one consistently engaging attribute.