By NATHAN LERNER
For 21st Century Media
This summer’s Tom Cruise blockbuster, “Edge of Tomorrow,” is another time-bending action film, replete with sci-fi elements. In it, Planet Earth is under attack from an alien species, The Mimics. They’ve conquered Russia and China and are now threatening France and England. Consciously evoking echoes of World War II’s Normandy invasion, the United States joins the fray in support of their allies.
Dating back to his days as the cocky pilot on “Top Gun,” Cruise has mastered the role of the self-sufficient, uber-macho hero. You can reliably count on his characters to prevail against all odds.
“Edge of Tomorrow” offers Cruise in a revised formulation of his customary screen persona. As Major William Cage, he is smug as ever. However, by his own admission he isn’t a soldier and doesn’t even know how to fight. He’s a public relations guru for the United Defense Force, who frequently appears on television spouting hackneyed platitudes with aplomb.
The allied forces have just managed a fluke victory at Verdun, this time summoning memories of the trench warfare of World War I. Cage is summoned to the office of General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson).
Cage is expecting to have a high level strategy session about how to spin the story and reap the public relations benefits of the recent military upset. He immediately starts pitching the general about the golden opportunity this presents to write his memoirs. However, that’s not what the no-nonsense Brigham has in mind. He is planning to embed Cage with the invasion force so that he can record the event. Cage protests the assignment, pointing out that he has no combat experience. Offended by Cage’s display of cowardice, Brigham reduces his rank to private. Cage goes from an office-bound pr functionary to front line cannon fodder.
In his first battle, the timorous Cage is immediately killed-or so it seems. There is some sort of inexplicable glitch in the time-space continuum. As a consequence, Cage experiences the events of his last day repeatedly. So you have the basic premise of the comedy “Goundhog Day” merged with the alien invasion theme of action thriller, “Independence Day.”
As Cage learns from the prior iterations of the events, there is a slightly revised outcome each time. Along the way, Cage encounters Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), widely touted as the Full Metal Bitch for her heroics at Verdun. Will the two be able to cobble together a strategy to defeat the seemingly invincible Mimics?
The acting here is top-notch. Cruise is spot on as a publicist with perfectly coiffed mane and a polished mien to match. He makes the transition to lean, mean fighting machine plausible. In such films as “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and “The Young Victoria,” Emily Blunt has played refined, cerebrotonic characters. As a tautly muscled, sword-wielding female warrior, she is thoroughly convincing. Who knew? In supporting roles, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton (as a staff sergeant) and Noah Taylor (as a genius scientist, who has been banished to a mental asylum) each provides additional texture to the film.
The screenplay is culled from Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s highly regarded 2004 novel “All You Need Is Kill.” Christopher McQuarrie previously penned the intricately-plotted “The Usual Suspects.” In conjunction with co-screenwriters, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, he infuses cinematicity into this adaptation. The fundamental challenge here is how to make the film’s numerous redundant scenes engaging. The trio is largely successful at achieving this. Where the film fails is in its inability to provide a conceptually coherent template to account for its aberrations of time. “Goundhog Day,” didn’t bother trying to account for why Bill Murray’s day was being recycled. “Looper,” another time travel action film (in which Blunt coincidentally co-starred), explicitly acknowledges that time travel simply makes no sense to mere morals.
As with his “Bourne Identity,” director Doug Liman can’t resist the excessive use of stedicam and jump cut editing. In a film that is conceptually confounding, this ill-considered technique exacerbates the confusion.
“Edge of Tomorrow” will keep you engaged throughout. Just don’t expect to be able to make any sense out of it.
“Edge of Tomorrow”
✦✦✦ PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material) 113 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.