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Thursday, June 5, 2014 12:01 am

Tomorrow stumbles

A decent film trips up at the finish line

Tom Cruise as Major William Cage

 

There’s no question that Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow is a solid one hour and 40 minute movie. Too bad it runs one hour and 53 minutes. Smart, funny, exciting and thought provoking, like all good science fiction should, the film delivers everything you could want and more from a summer movie. This isn’t a piece of Transformers-like urban carnage but a film that was on its way to reminding us that big entertainment doesn’t have to be mindless entertainment – something akin to Spielberg’s Minority Report, which Tomorrow has more than a passing resemblance to. Yes, it’s that good … until the end when we’re offered up a conclusion that undercuts the film’s interior logic and simply makes no sense.

Cruise is military media liaison Major William Cage, a spin doctor who could convince you a cloudy day is actually replete with rainbows. He’s been working overtime. An alien race known as Mimics, whirling-dervish, octopus-like metallic creatures, have come to Earth with destruction on their minds. Why they’re here is unknown (As Cage says later when asked, “Does it matter?” thus addressing their purpose as nothing more than a necessary plot device.) but they seem unstoppable. That is until a new exoskeleton – referred to as Jacket Technology – is invented that turns ordinary fighters into super soldiers. Using this new weapon for the first time an English fighter, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), wiped out hundreds of Mimics and became a poster child for the war effort. She’s a symbol Cage wishes he’d created and he eventually gets to meet her. The head of the international fighting force, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), surprises him by placing him on the frontlines of a massive invasion of France that they hope will turn the tide of the war.

What Cage doesn’t realize is that this longest day will seem endless to him. Once in the fight, he’s quickly killed by a Mimic but not before he ingests some of its DNA. This causes him to have a mental connection with the main organism controlling the enemy. Inexplicably, he’s also trapped in a time-loop in which he lives the same day, over and over again yet is able to progress further during that day using the knowledge he’s gained in previous ones. As a result he becomes a better, smarter warrior who enlists Vrataski’s aid as he finds out she was once stuck in this repeating pattern as well.

Of course, Groundhog Day is the template for the premise and Liman freely borrows from Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan as well during the Normandy invasion of the future, which is repeated time and time again. While Tomorrow has more than its fair share of reference points, that doesn’t mean it lacks originality or style. Seeing Cage relive the same day over and over again – it seems like an eternity at times, but not in a bad way – is presented in a darkly funny way that’s bolstered greatly by Cruise’s enthusiastic take on his character’s seemingly eternal bad luck. I couldn’t help but think of the poor major as Wile E. Coyote, optimistic to begin each new day, only to be blown to bits again and again, yet coming back for more. It’s a fun conceit, cleverly executed.

While it would be easy to dismiss this as yet another trademark Cruise role – callous jerk grows a heart – that would be diminishing what the actor brings to the screen. We take for granted the conviction he brings to each role he takes, investing a degree of feeling that helps him create genuine characters time and time again. Cruise may find himself in a bad movie now and again, but to his credit, you’ll never catch him sleepwalking through a role. Blunt is his equal here, fierce, sexy, smart and determined. She brings a sense of vulnerability to the hardened warrior she plays that’s refreshing. And kudos to Bill Paxton who provides ample comic relief as Sgt. Farell, Cage’s direct superior who gets great glee in lording over the “maggots” he’s in charge of.

Yes, it’s all good … until the ending. I’m not sure if I missed something or not but Liman and Cruise’s insistence on providing the audience with a happy ending trumps the film’s interior logic to the point that I felt cheated and a bit angry with the route they took. This error is particularly bothersome because most all of what’s in Tomorrow is top-notch. Had Liman stayed the course, he’s have made one of the best films of the year.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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