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July 31, 2014

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Battleship’ and ‘Expecting’: Products as movies

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You can expect … lots of cliches in the been-there-done-that What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

The Details

What to Expect When You're Expecting
Two stars
Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Jennifer Lopez
Directed by Kirk Jones
Rated PG-13
Beyond the Weekly
Official Movie Site
IMDb:What to Expect When You're Expecting
Rotten Tomatoes: What to Expect When You're Expecting

The Details

Battleship
Two stars
Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna
Directed by Peter Berg
Rated PG-13
Beyond the Weekly
Official Movie Site
IMDb:Battleship
Rotten Tomatoes: Battleship

Hollywood despises uncertainty, which is why there are so many sequels and remakes based on existing franchises. But lately, movie studios seem to have decided that source material doesn’t have to come from a previous film, or even a novel or a TV show or a comic book. Anything that’s recognizable to a sizeable audience, even if it lacks a plot or characters, is a prime candidate for the movie treatment. This week brings two such examples, the film “adaptations” (in the loosest sense) of the self-help book What to Expect When You’re Expecting and the board game Battleship.

Click to enlarge photo

Okay, so you didn't sink my battleship, but you turned one of my favorite board games into an overblown, Michael Bay-like mess.

Expect was first published in 1984 and has become the most popular pregnancy guide of all time. The movie version takes only the basic subject matter (pregnancy), and builds it into an ensemble comedy of intersecting stories along the lines of Valentine’s Day or He’s Just Not That Into You (which was also based on a self-help book). Screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach and director Kirk Jones run a handful of superficial characters through a series of cinematic pregnancy clichés and cloying, unfunny set pieces. The movie has the smug tone of judgmental, know-it-all parents, yet its reliance on tired plot devices suggests that the filmmakers may have actually skipped out on their reading.

Thankfully no reading was required for the makers of Battleship, which is just as dumb and manipulative as Expect, only aimed at the opposite sex. Director Peter Berg proves himself a poor man’s Michael Bay in staging the chaotic action sequences pitting hostile aliens against a handful of U.S. Navy ships in the Pacific Ocean. For the most part, the movie is unrelated to the game, although the aliens do use vaguely peg-like weapons, and one sequence features the main characters using a grid system much like the game’s, in order to target alien ships that they can’t see on radar. The plot mechanics required to get to that point are absurd, but not much more laughable than the dialogue, the acting or the generally slapdash plotting in the rest of the movie.

Battleship shamelessly panders to patriotism in the way that Expect shamelessly panders to the prenatal industry (of which its source material is a major part), and both movies drag on to the point of exhaustion. It’s easy to criticize films for being based on products, but when the movies themselves are nothing but products, does it really make a difference?

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