In case you were unaware of what The Asylum is, they produce what are called "mockbusters." They've been around for quite a while, producing such classics as "Paranormal Entity," "Transmorphers," "Snakes on a Train," and my favorite deceptive title, "The Day The Earth Stopped." This latest entry, "American Warships" is unsurprisingly a knockoff of "Battleship," but where this story gets interesting is that Universal actually threatened The Asylum with a lawsuit unless they changed the title from its original moniker, "American Battleship."
You know, I hate to come down on the side of The Asylum on this one, but seriously, Universal can choke on a spatula. The Asylum's original title is actually far more accurate than the big expensive flop "Battleship." After all, in "Battleship," the majority of the movie takes place on a destroyer. It isn't until the last act of the movie they get their hands on an actual battleship. "American Battleship" is totally accurate. The whole movie takes place on a battleship. From America. Seems legit.
But no, they had to change the name, which now make it make just as little sense as the title of "Battleship." In fact, it makes less sense, because there is only ONE ship in "American Warships" that does anything. The rest get blown out of the water instantly. We are following just ONE ship the whole time, so where does the damn plurality fit in here?
Oh and by the way, I don't care if "American Warships" is direct to video. Considering the difference in budget, I guarantee you that The Asylum made way more money off every dollar invested in their movie in rentals than Universal did domestically, considering "Battleship" only made back about 25% of its $200+ million budget in the states. So who's laughing now, Universal? Thunder Levin, that's who.
Awesome name off the port bow.
Did I mention the director of "American Warships" is named Thunder Levin? That's not a pseudonym. That's his real name. And that makes this movie, at least in part, hardcore. But there is one more thing about "American Warships" which makes it even more hardcore than a director with a name worthy of porn. I am of course referring to the fact that The Master of Disaster, The Count of Monte Fisto himself, Carl Weathers is staring in this movie.
So without further ado, on this very special occasion when we celebrate big box-office bombs by watching a movie filmed for roughly what craft services spent for one day on "Battleship," I would like to introduce to you a new game we're playing. It's called:
HOW MANY CARL WEATHERS REFERENCES CAN I MAKE!?!?
(By the way, craft services on "Battleship" had everything you needed to get a stew going.)
So "American Warships" is, on the surface at least, pretty similar in plot to "Battleship." An alien invasion via sea based alien vessels threatens humanity, and a lone American ship is the only one in a position to stop it. They also do a similar thing to the force field that was in "Battleship," only in this film, it's not a force field, but a total frying of any kind of integrated electrical circuits that enters into range of the alien craft. That means that essentially, anything possessing technology post-1950 is kind of going to crash and burn. So cue the WWII battleship being sailed back to the States that happens to be in the exact right place at the right time. Lucky seems not powerful enough of a word.
Another big difference is that the alien ships are invisible. So Mario Van Peebles, playing the captain of the battleship USS Iowa, has to follow the ship's wake, which I guess the aliens are too stupid to realize that they leave behind them. Intergalactic travel is one thing, but mastering the concepts of water displacement is quite another. And you know, the wake almost looks like it was made by a giant alligator. Fortunately, nobody loses a hand.
Most of "American Warships" is spent with Mario Van Peebles following this wake, and every once in a while firing off some of the guns in an attempt to hit something. And while this may sound boring, there is something of a pressing time crunch that does manage to give the movie some tension.
In a very "Crimson Tide"/"Hunt for Red October" style of plot, the world assumes that the ship is North Korean, since it attacked South Korea. And if it's not North Korean, it's probably Chinese. Anyways, the last conclusion anyone is jumping to is "alien." And since it also wiped out an entire American fleet in the first scene of the movie, this thing has got everyone running scared, and talks quickly move to nuking EVERYONE. America sends bombers to take out North Korea, and it's up to Mario Van Peebles to prove that it is an alien ship before they do, otherwise there is no tomorrow. THERE IS NO TOMORROW!!!
Carl Weathers shows up whenever the movie occasionally cuts back to the war room as an army general, and in what I have to admit is a bit of script writing I really appreciated, the Secretary of Defense is NOT a total douchebag who has been pushing too many pencils.
In movies like this, that character or their equivalent is always portrayed as a jerk who just refuses to EVER listen to reason or consider the possibility that the heroes will succeed. They always just sit there, finger on the button, sweating and growling through their clenched teeth that they have to report back to the President in an hour, so they BETTER have some GOD DAMN ANSWERS for him!!!
And the entire time you're just wondering what happened to them? They used to be one of the good guys.
In "American Warships," when the SoD busts in the room, adjusts his suit, gives Carl Weathers an annoyed, overly stern look and says "General, what the HELL is going on?!" I rolled my eyes and prepared for the worst. My fears were pretty much unwarranted, thankfully, because not too long after that introduction, the SoD is actually portrayed as a reasonable, even-keeled guy who is actually working WITH Carl Weathers instead of just yelling and being a tool. So props to "American Warships" for nixing that cliche. Otherwise, a fight between them could have broken out, and Carl would be looking at maybe $10,000 in hospital bills.
I have to say that while there is not exactly "riveting" action going on, and it's still really low budget, I was admittedly invested in this plot for the most part. The Asylum used to have this nasty habit of being obscenely boring to the point of being unwatchable, but they've gotten better over the years. There is a coherent storyline going on here, something that was actually lacking in a lot of their other films, and while the budget does make the action scenes kind of harsh to get through, I've seen a lot worse from The Asylum. But it was lacking something, what was it? Excitement? Enthusiasm? Esprit de corps?
What the film really lacks in however is the special effects. When the aliens are finally seen, it's...not pleasant. And by that I mean it's a really bad effect. The look almost as bad as the aliens from "The Darkest Hour." Maybe worse, I couldn't really tell you. At least the aliens from "The Darkest Hour" looked like an enemy from "Doom 2" or something. These just looked like something made in a late night drunken game of "Spore."
But did the really bad looking aliens ruin "American Warships?" Nah. It was just a cheesy footnote. You don't see them a lot, although the "shock" at the end which I guess is supposed to be the obligatory "4th act" in a horror film is pretty lackluster because of the lameness of the CG. Other than that, it was just one of those "Oh, well of course they look terrible" moments.
So what did I end up with? Seven references? I feel like I'm missing one. Um...how about: Aliens using cloaking devices? That's original.
THE BOTTOM LINE - "American Warships" is for people already familiar with The Asylum. If you're not, it's going to hurt bad. If you are, it's actually a pretty fun time with a cheesy D-grade movie that manages to be reasonably entertaining. Recommended for fans of The Asylum. It's one of their better films.