Remember Groundhog Day, the delightfully inventive Harold Ramis comedy about a self-absorbed TV weatherman who relives the same 24 hours over and over again until he becomes a much warmer human being? Its winning premise gets blatantly recycled in the derivative science fiction action thriller Edge Of Tomorrow.
Tom Cruise plays a former ad-man turned TV military propagandist who is suddenly summoned to London, England for a private meeting with Brendan Gleeson, a typically gruff British general. For image purposes, Cruise, who has never been properly trained for combat, is ordered to join the frontlines of a global war against a large group of mysteriously invading aliens nicknamed Mimics. Imagine flying mechanical octopi hurtling at you at breakneck speeds.
With permission from his American superiors, Gleeson orders a supremely reluctant Cruise to join Bill Paxton and his misfit soldiers as they lead the charge against a band of these ruthless intergalactic warriors in a theatre set on a French beach. He wants no part of it. Thinking he’s successfully talked his way out of going (he warns Gleeson that he could easily bury him on TV for how badly the war is going), Cruise leaves the General’s office believing he’s in the clear.
Calling his bluff, Gleeson then orders his arrest and following a brief, foolhardy escape attempt (which concludes with a dreaded tazing), the demoted Cruise (the former Major is now a Private) ends up awakening at Heathrow Airport (now a makeshift air force base) where he’s immediately met with hostility. (Wouldn’t it be nice to have a cinematic military officer not referred to as a “maggot” for once?)
Despite pleading his case to the colourful Paxton, he’s stuck. (It doesn’t help matters that he’s repeatedly referred to as a deserter.) Like his fellow soldiers, when the time comes he has to climb into some sort of weaponized mechanical suit to fight but because he’s had zilcho training, he can’t perform basic functions like taking the safety off.
In the film’s best scene, the aliens eagerly disrupt the arrival of Paxton & company’s aircraft by blasting a hole in it before the men & one woman can safely drop down on wires that seem preposterously sturdier than the ship itself.
As these multi-legged creatures waste away extra after extra, including all of Paxton’s soldiers, in a wonderfully chaotic sequence, a terrified Cruise briefly spots The Angel Of Verdun (a miscast Emily Blunt), a Jessica Lynch-type soldier referred to on one double decker bus advertisement as Full Metal Bitch. (What a great B-movie title that would make.) Before being thrown into the muck, he was selling her uncommon bravery on cable news channels like CNN.
Unfortunately, before getting to her, he gets killed by a Mimic he simultaneously executes.
Immediately afterward, however, he suddenly finds himself very much alive at Heathrow again after awakening from this horrible nightmare. He’s even more perplexed when he relives the exact same moments he already experienced including his ill-fated combat mission.
Like Bill Murray’s weatherman in Groundhog Day, Cruise is a slow learner. He makes mistake after mistake after mistake before improving his skills and advancing further into the day he’s being forced to repeat, sometimes making different choices which lead to different scenarios. And every time he expires, he’s right back at Heathrow getting called a maggot again. Considering how many times he goes through this process, he must have a boundless appetite for tedium.
This gimmick, which was employed so much more effectively in the Ramis film, eventually grows tired. The attempts at humour are particularly weak. At a certain point, you start to wonder if this would make a better video game.
Inevitably, Cruise reaches Blunt and learns why he’s caught in this formulaic time loop. It turns out she knows exactly what he’s going through.
Like every other alien invasion movie, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds against humanity surviving potential extinction there is a way to destroy the extra-terrestrial threat without having to waste so much ammo. This time, the hunt is on for a giant energy ball called an Omega that keeps the aliens powerful and whose secret location can only be known through visions that only Cruise can see after he jabs a multi-needled device into his leg. But of course.
However, finding and destroying that throbbing energy ball is no easy task since the Mimics are masters of psychological warfare. For example, as Blunt explains to Cruise, her much celebrated valor during a battle in Verdun, France only happened because the aliens let it happen. They want humans to delude themselves into thinking they’re winning before they lower the boom on them.
Groundhog Day isn’t the only film Edge Of Tomorrow shamelessly steals from. From The War Of The Worlds to imitators like Independence Day and the more recent Battle: Los Angeles (which has a similar news montage opening) to Aliens, it is deathly afraid of originality.
It’s also completely disinterested in properly developing its mostly forgettable characters. With the notable exceptions of Paxton & Gleeson, who do fine character work as two of Cruise’s military antagonists, no one really stands out. The J-Squad are basically rejected first drafts of the doomed marines we cared more for in Aliens. And ultimately, the Mimics, beyond their clever tactics, are just bland special effects waiting to be extinguished.
The ageless Cruise does what he can with a thin character who evolves rather predictably, a coward who gradually morphs into an all-knowing hero thanks to countless do-overs. And Blunt, better known for her period pieces & romantic comedies, is decidedly unworthy of the Full Metal Bitch moniker. Was the grittier Angelina Jolie unavailable?
One scene perfectly sums up the disappointing emptiness of this movie. At one point, while still in London, Cruise has a drink in a local pub. A couple of old fogies are talking about what these Mimics are actually looking for. “Minerals,” opines one.
Cruise responds with a question: “What difference does it make?”
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 20, 2014