Brainless ‘Battleship’; ‘Hysteria’; ‘Expect’: Greg Evans

Taylor Kitsch in "Battleship." The film is a two-hour onslaught of explosions, pitting the U.S. Navy against mole-faced aliens and giant, mechanized spaceships. Photographer: Frank Masi/Universal Pictures via Bloomberg

Scraping the bottom of Hasbro’s toy box, Universal Pictures and director Peter Berg assemble “Battleship,” a movie as brainless as summer blockbusters get.

You’d need the expertise of a corporate branding lawyer to detect much similarity between the high-decibel, low-I.Q. “Battleship” and the Baby Boomer board game it’s supposedly based on.

Looking like “Transformers” (another Hasbro product) and countless sci-fi video games, “Battleship” is a two-hour onslaught of explosions, pitting the U.S. Navy against mole-faced aliens and giant, mechanized spaceships.

The dimwitted script by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber is only funny when it’s not trying to be. The intentional jokes are along the lines of a jittery nerd spotting a Navy veteran with prosthetic legs and asking, “Is he a cyborg?”

Taylor Kitsch, no better than he was in the flop “John Carter,” stars as a ne’er-do-well lieutenant who finds himself leading the planet’s defense against robotic hordes.

The cast has fine bone structure (only Kitsch could relegate Alexander Skarsgard to a wingman) and a one-from-each-group cultural diversity that amplifies the film’s recruitment-ad vibe. Liam Neeson, as a no-nonsense admiral, cashes a paycheck with a flat, embarrassed performance.

Singer Rihanna, in her acting debut, is the film’s gift to costar Brooklyn Decker, the ex-model who seems accomplished by comparison.

“Battleship,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the country. Rating: *


The vibrator gets a heavy-handed workout in “Hysteria,” a modest costume comedy that would have benefitted from a lighter touch.

Based (loosely, one assumes) on real events -- and not to be confused with Sarah Ruhl’s similarly-themed, much superior 2009 play “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play”) --director Tanya Wexler’s film stars Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville, the English physician who invented the vibrator to treat hysteria, that scourge of Victorian womanhood.

Maladies real and imagined were chalked up to what was thought to be an affliction of the uterus. The more progressive doctors favored “paroxysm” as a cure.

Indeed, poor Dr. Granville nearly loses the use of a hand providing one paroxysm after another to the patients crowding his office. What to do but invent a device to take the heat?

Firebrand Feminist

Firebrand feminist Charlotte Dalrymple (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is having none of it. She decries hysteria as a “catch all” diagnosis designed to pathologize women’s needs.

Granville’s a goner, of course, and not just because Gyllenhaal can’t be less than lovely. “Hysteria,” charming as it is, pushes the romantic comedy buttons too forcefully to fool anyone into thinking it’s the real thing.

“Hysteria,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **1/2

‘What to Expect’

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting” cribs its title from a bestselling parenting guide and its jokes from generations of sitcoms.

Slick, steadily amusing and instantly forgettable, the ensemble comedy follows five couples as they prepare for parenthood. Nervous dads, grouchy moms and lots of talk about miracles, inconvenient urination and “the glow” arrive precisely on time.

Directed by Kirk Jones with a screenplay by Shauna Cross and Heather Hach (“inspired” by Heidi Murkoff’s non-fiction bestseller), “What to Expect” drops only a few how-to factoids (to circumcise or not?), but mainly pokes gentle fun at the emotional chaos wrought by those gestating tots.

The interconnected stories are set mostly in Atlanta (though I counted only two Southern accents, and those are played for laughs). Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) teaches women how to breast feed, though her first pregnancy puts her eggheaded theories to the test.

She’s married to Gary (Ben Falcone), a shlubby nice guy constantly overshadowed by his competitive, race-car star dad Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), whose much younger wife (Brooklyn Decker, better here than in “Battleship”) is pregnant with twins.

Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison play TV celebrities with a tabloid-fodder pregnancy; Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro are an infertile couple planning an Ethiopian adoption; and Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford, in the best storyline, are twentysomethings coping with the unplanned results of a one night stand.

Getting less screen time than trailers suggest, Chris Rock heads a support group of stroller-pushing dads lamenting their long-gone freedom.

“Don’t talk about what we walk about,” Rock’s griping dad warns a newcomer. The code of silence isn’t really necessary -- we’ve heard it all before.

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” from Lionsgate, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:

**** Excellent
*** Good
** Average
* Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham on history and Zinta Lundborg on weekend entertainment.

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