Monday, June 9, 2014

Just Shoot Me: "Edge of Tomorrow" runs out of lives too early

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
113 min., rated PG-13. 

What is not derivative anymore? When it comes to science fiction, almost nothing is brand spanking new, as "Total Recall" is like "Blade Runner" and "I, Robot" is like "Minority Report." Quickly forgettable time-travel sci-fi actioner "Edge of Tomorrow" seems like it could have been the pureed concoction from a dab of "Groundhog Day," a splash of "Starship Troopers," and just a hint of "Source Code" when, in actuality, it's an adaptation of the better-titled novel "All You Need Is Kill" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Where the material comes from is inconsequential, though, as how well it's pulled off on the screen is really key. Cheers to a summer-released action extravaganza that isn't a sequel or a reboot, but it might as well be once the promising first half ends, tedium sets in and no emotional attachment ever develops.

Earth has been invaded by an alien race called "Mimics." After the military has been defeated each time in Europe, the United Defense Forces finally designed mechanical exoskeletons to achieve one victory in Verdun. Launching Operation Downfall on the Mimics, flippant military spokesman Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), who has no combat experience, finds himself trying to wriggle out of General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) ordering him to fight. Upon refusing, Cage is arrested and then wakes up at the UDF base, being debriefed and kicked around as a deserter condemned for "impersonating an officer." The next morning, the military unit's mission turns into an ambush by the Mimics. Amidst the slaughter, Cage kills one of the aliens while trying to save the face of the war campaign, female sergeant Rita "The Angel of Verdun" Vrataski (Emily Blunt), but he dies himself. Then he wakes back up to the same morning before the day of the attack, and before you can say "I Got You Babe" on a loop, Cage keeps dying, resetting, and reliving the same day over and over again in a time loop. Luckily, Rita went through the same process, so maybe they'll be able to find and destroy the master alien parasite and then win the war once and for all.

The hook of "Edge of Tomorrow" is a cool one that enraptures from the start. There's the cheeky and morbid humor in how Cage already knows what Sgt. Farell (Bill Paxton) and the other soldiers are about to say and how Rita keeps resetting the loop by pulling the trigger on Cage again and again. These scenes have real kick, and director Doug Liman (2002's "The Bourne Identity" and 2005's "Mr. & Mrs. Smith") has a ball with the time-loop conceit, giving us reruns of Cage's continual two days and skipping ahead without overlapping too much. Also, the imagery of Cage's face getting doused in extraterrestrial blood is pretty gnarly. Déjà vu happens to be part of the fun and the proceedings play out like a video game, and that wouldn't be such a bad thing had the stakes felt fuller from the screenplay by writers Christopher McQuarrie (2013's "Jack the Giant Slayer") and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth. Herein lies the fatal problemit's hard to get caught up in what happens next to the half-formed lead characters who become merely cogs in a repetitive machine. Cage isn't the only one who thinks it's a drag when having to keep starting over again and again. Cruise naysayers, however, should find gallows delight in seeing the star killed multiple times, including being run over by a military truck.

At 51, Tom Cruise isn't just resting on his laurels, having headlined superior sci-fi films before ("Oblivion," "War of the Worlds" and "Minority Report"). Taking on the seemingly interesting role of a cowardly military officer rushed into action and a time loop, Cruise does his job well and remains watchable, if only for the handy movie-star wattage and credence he brings to every project rather than what was given to him on the page to flesh out Cage. This allows Cruise's leading lady to be the tough hero. The against-type casting of Emily Blunt as a super soldier ironically works, and the actress certainly looks toned and able-bodied, but beyond the physical demands of such a one-note part, it feels like a waste of Blunt. When Cage and Rita hole up in an abandoned farmhouse, the story hits a much-needed lull, but precious little is learned about either character, so no reason is provided to care. Cruise and Blunt keep things cooking for a while, sure, but there should be a more worthwhile reason other than seeing two big stars to get audiences to show up. 

As a thematically shallow popcorn picture that rampages at a brisk clip of stops and starts, "Edge of Tomorrow" affords a few pulse-quickening thrills, especially early on when Cage is deployed from a plane onto the beaches of France, and light chuckles before going haywire in an interminable, dank-looking finale and arriving at a baffling, compromised-for-the-masses endgame that might only elicit a shrug. The film has glimmers of being smarter than the norm, until a dedication to mainstream accessibility extends itself to so much soulless shoot-'em-up action. For the action sequences themselves, director Liman falls back too often on frenetic bedlam and whiplash cutting. Looking like the spawn of calamari and a Transformer in need of Ritalin, the metallic, tentacled and hyperactive "Mimics" are more obnoxious than threatening, flurrying around all over the place as if the effects team wanted to distract us from their indistinct creature design. "Edge of Tomorrow" just looks and sounds like other, better movies and doesn't do enough to make sure it doesn't slide out of the viewer's mind by tomorrow.


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