COMPANY: The Asylum
RUNTIME: 91 mins
PLOT: Without warning an alien fleet invades Earth and starts destroying Los Angeles, and it's up to a ragtag group of soldiers to survive the onslaught and find a way to save the day.
REVIEW: A word of warning before I go into this review: This is not a review for the big-budget Hollywood summer blockbuster Battle: Los Angeles. This is a review of the low budget mockbuster knock-off Battle of Los Angeles, made by The Asylum.
Asylum, as much as I love them, tends to turn out movies faster then I can keep up with. I nab them on DVD or BluRay as quickly as I can, but then they sit on my shelf for months while I try to make time to actually watch them. Battle of Los Angeles aired on SyFy before it hit DVD, but since I live in Canada I wasn't able to catch it on TV (we don't have access to SyFy here) and have been putting off buying the DVD because Asylum has confirmed that it will be hitting BluRay (though it's been delayed). Then I was browsing the new arrivals of Netflix Canada's Instant Watch and noticed it was available there – and in HD! So I canceled my plans for the evening and loaded the movie up to finally watch (truth be told said plans involved simply cleaning my apartment and going for a bath, so it's not like I had anything better to do).
To be 100% completely honest, I was totally enthralled from the opening seconds, right to the end; the phrase 'Action-Packed' has never been properly attributed to a movie better than it is with this one. The movie opens on the mothership already hovering over Los Angeles with a squad of fighter jets heading towards it. Within 60 seconds, the action starts and it literally does not let up until the credits start rolling some 90-odd minutes later. If nothing else, this movie really captured the hecticness of war, never giving the characters a proper chance to just stop and catch their breaths, and never giving us, the viewer, a chance to even blink. From fighter jets attacking the mothership, to alien fighter ships attacking the jets and the city in general, to soldiers doing battle against stationary alien projectile turrets on the ground, to killer robots, to one-eyed hot samurai women taking out alien fighter ships with her katana sword, this movie throws everything and the kitchen sink at us, and oddly enough – it all works. The only problem I really have with the script is at the very end when our heroes bring down the mothership and make it crash, it crashes right into the middle of Los Angeles, sending up giant explosions everywhere. It did (what looked like anyway) more damage to the city then the aliens themselves did during the actual invasion. But that's just one minor problem at the very end, and it's more of a visual issue then one on the script-level.
On top of turning out a mostly well-written script, the scriptwriter also knew his shit. Not only did he seem well-versed on the original Battle of Los Angeles event from the 1940's, but he also seemed to be educated quite thoroughly on alien mythology in general, incorporating MJ-12 lore into it, which I feel not enough alien/UFO movies do. Upon researching, I found out that Mark Atkins (both the scriptwriter and director of this movie) actually had made a short film in his filmschool days, on this very topic, so it doesn't surprise me too much that he did such a good job here.
Of course more works here then just the script. There have been a few Asylum movies that have had great scripts, but still failed over all. It takes a combination of many successful aspects and something else that stood out to me while watching are the effects. Yes, ok, they suck...for a normal movie. But this isn't a normal movie – this is a low budget movie made by a low budget company and thus, the effects need to be judged on those merits and going by those merits, the effects rocked. They are easily the best effects I've seen to date from The Asylum, and leaps and bounds better then the effects from any other SyFy Original Movie of the Week. Both the extensive CGI work on the spaceships and Alien Lord creature, as well as the practical effects work for the captive alien - it all looked good. If this is the direction that Asylum is going for their effects work in future releases, I say bring it on. They've certainly improved from their early days. The only downside, and it's just a minor quibble, is that there were a few times we saw the exact same effect shot re-used over and over and it was just a tad distracting, but that's understandable considering the small size of the budget and how good everything looked.
To accompany the awesome script and better-then-expected effects are well-written characters and the stand-out performances of them. The movie is filled with all sorts of characters, but I'll only directly mention the very main ones because really – even the minor characters were written-well and performed perfectly by the actors portraying them. First up we have Kel from Keenan and Kel playing the timid unsure-of-himself army private that has to take charge and lead the fight against the aliens. Honestly, I wasn't too sure of him at first, being the weakest actor in the movie and not being very convincing playing the timid role. But once he started having to take charge, I liked him a lot more and felt he fit that kind of role much better, and by the end I was totally behind him, especially once he started piloting the captured alien attack ship and took the fight to the alien mothership, Independance Day-style. Alongside him is one badass eyepatch-wearing sword-wielding hot chick in a tight jumpsuit, who kicks ass and takes names. Not only can she bring down alien attack ships with nothing more then her skill with a katana sword, but she can order people around and spew lines with the best of them. Easily the best actor in the movie and totally stole the show almost every time she was on screen. Also, there's a tough-as-nails Michelle Rodriquez-wannabe fighter pilot that ends up crossing paths with Kel and his squad of soldiers and joins them once her jet gets grounded. That is one woman you do not want to piss off, and if trying to channel Michelle Rodriquez is what her goal was, she met it perfectly. Other then them, there are a few random other military characters but none really worth mentioning, as well as a couple Government scientists once they reach the secret underground facility. But unlike most Asylum movies, even the small roles for the minor side characters were played by mostly-capable actors that did surprisingly well with the roles. A highlight of them is an old army Sargent that barks orders alongside insults and threats and is so bad ass, he brings down an alien attack ship with just his pistol, then hijacks the weapons off that to shoot down another ship.
The set designs are also really well-created. We have the streets of a ruined city, a desert outpost, a dimly-lit secret underground government facility where they're keeping a kidnapped alien, and the corridors and inner-workings of the alien mothership – it all looked really well-done and believable. You can tell Asylum pumped a larger budget into this one then normal, and not a penny went to waste.
When all was said and done, I had had so much fun watching this little gem and despite being a low budget direct-to-video cheap knock-off, I actually enjoyed it way more then the bigger-budgeted version Battle: Los Angeles. Battle of Los Angeles never once took itself too seriously, and the creators knew what it was while making it and don't try to deliver on anything it's not. The acting, the effects, the script...it all adds various levels of cheese that makes watching this movie, and other mockbusters like it, so much fun to watch while chugging back on a few beers some weekend evening, which is more then what can be said for the crappy Hollywood version.
This is, without a doubt, Asylum's best production to date.
10/10 rooms in the Psych Ward