Film studio The Asylum is trying to stay under the radar with their newest mockbuster, American Battleship. They changed the name to American Warships in response to a lawsuit by Universal Studios that claims they’re infringing on the official Battleship movie.
The similarities don’t end there. American Warships also features alien invaders that can only be stopped by an old battleship turned museum. Unlike the Hollywood version though, this low budget knockoff relies heavily on invisible enemies. The aliens use cloaked ships that decloak only when attacking. One crewman points out the similarity to the Klingons from Star Trek. The difference is that when these aliens appear they’re always seen in the distance and indistinguishable from an ordinary ship, which is exactly what they want as it threatens to trigger a nuclear war. It’s not until the very end of the movie that we see a closeup of a ship that transforms into a spaceship. It’s not worth the wait.
“American Warships really was a $200 million action film made on a tenth of a percent of the budget,” Director Thunder Levin told Dread Central. “And of course that entails great compromise in almost every aspect of the filmmaking process. But for all the corners that one must cut, it’s the time factor that’s the worst part. We had three weeks to shoot what a studio film would have taken months and months on.”
Levin says they have more vfx than Star Wars, though he admits in terms of quality of the Death Star blows it out of the water. Fortunately, they were able to add some sense of realism on the cheap.
“We were very fortunate in that we found an actual battleship to stand in for the USS Iowa (the USS North Carolina in Wilmington, NC) and we were granted pretty much full access to the ship, so long as we didn’t damage anything. That provided a lot of production value right there,” said Levin.
“The real key is to focus on the characters. If you can get the audience emotionally involved in the characters, then they won’t need quite so much spectacle to keep them entertained.”
However, it’s difficult to get emotionally invested in the characters when they can’t do it themselves. It’s not just a matter of bad acting, but bad writing. There’s no conflict, even where there clearly should be.
Admiral Hollis (David Polinsky) unwittingly gets caught up in the battle when he boards the USS Iowa for what is supposed to be an uneventful final voyage before both he and the ship retire. He’s inexplicably absent for most of the film. When the Admiral does finally appear, he meekly questions the Captain’s choice to return fire on the ship, which they presume is North Korean. The Captain calmly suggests he relieve him if he wants to run the ship but the Admiral is speechless and quickly vanishes again. There’s no back and forth, no debate, no tension.
Even worse is watching General McKraken (Carl Weathers) get chewed out by the Secretary Of Defense Alter (Elijah Chester), who is the only character to even attempts to show any emotion. It’s literally painful watching the actor who played Apollo Creed reduced to the role of punching bag.
The only real interaction between the characters is a not-so-secret on-board romance between Captain Winston (Marion Van Peebles) and Lt. Caroline Bradley (Johanna Watts). The Captain reprimands her for being too casual with him publicly, but the crew doesn’t seem to care so why should the audience? This couple has about as much passion as Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. Not even slow motion can save their big kiss, in which Peebles looks like he’s kissing a lemon.
The most dramatic scene is also the funniest. An explosion rocks the ship and sends an artillery shell slowly rolling towards Lt. Bradley, who has fallen down and for no apparent reason can’t get up.
Bradley crabwalks backwards while an equally gimpy crewman crawls after the shell. It’s like an unintentionally funny version of the steamroller scene from the Austin Powers movie.
In the end, it’s not aliens or even a lawsuit that sink this battleship. It does that all by itself.