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Movie review: 'Edge of Tomorrow' is as fun as it is preposterous, in a good way

Edge of Tomorrow

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"EDGE OF TOMORROW"-- 4 STARS

I said this for "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" in 2011 and I will say it again. There are certain things Tom Cruise does completely right. Being the top and most ageless action hero in the business is one of them. Say what you will about his personal views and behavior, but the guy delivers the goods on the silver screen.

While none of his recent movies have been the worldwide blockbusters equal to his past greatest hits, Cruise has continued to make calculated choices in delivering some really solid films. "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" boosted that franchise with IMAX spectacle. "Jack Reacher" enabled Cruise to debunk the book's archetype with a solid lead performance that owned the role. Last year's "Oblivion," in particular really impressed me as an original science fiction offering and made my Top 20 for the 2013 year. Excluding "Rock of Ages," which wasn't Cruise's fault, the guy is on a steady winning streak. None of them are blowouts, but all are quality starts on the acting mound.

Go ahead and continue his solid streak one more movie with the very entertaining "Edge of Tomorrow" opening this week. The funniest thing is Tom is essentially playing the opposite of his usual macho self and it still works. We're used to the take-charge man-of-action characters out of him, not the wimp and coward he plays here. Because of that, there's a certain unexpected humor coming out of "Edge of Tomorrow" that boosts its doom-and-gloom alien invasion setup.

"Edge of Tomorrow," like most science fiction, is as interesting as it preposterous, but I will do my best to explain it simply and SPOILER-FREE. In the near future, Cruise plays Major William Cage, a preening PR officer with no combat experience who's utilized by the brass as a talking head on CNN panels explaining the state of affairs to the public. An alien race dubbed the "Mimics" have invaded Western Europe causing heavy loses. An enormous united military effort is being organized to take back the continent on several fronts.

Cage must have pissed somebody off because the head military commander in London, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), strips the cowardly Cage of his rank and ships him as a deserter to the grunts of the infantry first-wave. Joining the rejects of J-Squad, led by kooky Kentuckian Master Sergeant Farrell (a southern-fried and perfectly ridiculous Bill Paxton), they will take part in a massive beach invasion across the English Channel, echoing the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Their tactical advancement is utilizing high-tech combat "jacket" battle suits that have been developed to take on the Mimics.

Completely inept and ill-equipped for combat, Cage and everyone else are slaughtered within minutes of hitting the French beaches by the Mimic forces. In death, Cage takes out one of the leading Mimics called an Alpha. Something crazy occurs because the death of the Alpha passed on a time loop mental power into Cage's blood (don't ask) that connects all of the Mimic forces to the Alpha. Immediately after dying, Cage wakes up alive and back at the infantry camp the morning before battle. This is where the "Groundhog Day" repetition takes hold.

Over and over, Cage repeats his boot camp rejection and combat failure until he encounters the helicopter-blade-wielding Rita Vrataski, played by "Looper" star Emily Blunt, on the battlefield. Rita is a hardened veteran of the fall of France before this counteroffensive. Dubbed the "Heavy Metal Bitch," she is the most skilled Mimic killer in the force and is the poster hero for this war. With the line "come find me when you wake up," the scenario changes. She knows what's happened to Cage because it happened to her in the past. Through more trial and error, Cage and Rita work together to not only better train the fumbling Cage for combat on each loop, but also improve the chain of events towards defeating the Mimics.

Yes, when you take a step back, this whole scenario is incredibly absurd. While watching the film, I will admit it's a tough sell, even to most open-minded science fiction fans. It is a film that, to its credit, wants to be taken more seriously than just selling video games and action figures. Still, much is intentionally, and sometimes unsuccessfully, vague or perplexing, but director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," "Jumper") and his team do make it very entertaining. Like I said, there's a catchy humor to watching our hero screw up, time and time again, against the usual Tom Cruise modus operandi. Emily Blunt is your ass-kicker here and it's a welcome change.

In the same way that last year's Cruise film "Oblivion" borrowed a little too much from other sci-fi efforts like "The Matrix," "Moon," "Wall-E," "Solaris," and "Dark City" for too many ingredients, "Edge of Tomorrow" makes a bit of the same mistake. Even though "Edge of Tomorrow" is adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka's original novel "All You Need is Kill," this plays too close to Duncan Jones's criminally underseen "Source Code" and Harold Ramis's aforementioned "Groundhog Day" with the repetitious and borderline tiresome time loop device. Both roots are superior films compared to "Edge of Tomorrow." Blame the wringer and carousel of screenwriters thrown into this movie by either Liman or the studio. Much like last summer's "World War Z," it almost sounds like this movie was lucky to get made with so many cooks in the kitchen. Starting as a blacklisted screenplay by Dante Harper in 2010, the film began shooting without an ending and frequent rewrites until Cruise's "Jack Reacher" and "Valkyrie" collaborator Christopher McQuarrie put the finishing touches on the screenplay credit given to the brother team of Jez and John-Henry Butterworth who worked with Liman on 2010's "Fair Game."

Once more, much like "World War Z", this might have been a mess to make, but "Edge of Tomorrow" ended up a very exciting and entertaining mess. The pace is excellent, the action is compelling, and the story stays unexpected enough to still surprise with plenty of unpredictability, even with the constant looped reiteration of events. I think it's a perfect roller coaster ride that makes a good impression without wasting your money. "World War Z" and "Edge of Tomorrow" are quite comparable with these qualities and are apt comparisons. Someday most assuredly soon, the YouTube wizards at Cinema Sins and ScreenJunkies.com will have field days making their respective "Every Wrong with..." and "Honest Trailer" bashings of "Edge of Tomorrow" and they'll be more than in the right for doing so. I'm probably over-grading this film, but I'll still take this to "Pacific Rim," "World War Z," "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," or even "Godzilla" for entertainment value lately.

LESSON #1: COMING INTO YOUR OWN AS A SOLDIER-- Less than in a "Rocky" fashion with catchy music, the bulk of this film's second act is making a fighter out of the wimpy Cage. His repeated training and improvement helps him come into his own as a real and proficient soldier. He forgoes his fears and accepts his role towards winning this battle and changing the future. It's a necessary character shift that needs to happen for success.

LESSON #2: MAKING THE MOST OF A LIMITED AMOUNT OF TIME-- With each time loop, Cage has a short amount of time to gain the trust of the people he needs that, now, don't know him again. He's also limited towards how far he can succeed and progress with each beach invasion attempt with Rita before a mistake causes his death and resets the day. With efficiency comes a shorthand of quicker decisions, smarter actions, tactical adjustments, and a constant awareness of necessary details for the next attempt.

LESSON #3: IF YOU KNOW THE FUTURE, YOU CANNOT LOSE-- Devoid of "Pacific Rim" and "Independence Day"-style speechifying, this notion and quote is as lofty as "Edge of Tomorrow" presumes itself to be as an ongoing mantra. The fixated goal of this mission is to use these repeated opportunities to better know the future before it comes to pass. If they know how they will win, they can make that happen and save lives. It's not Sun Tzu, but's it's close.