Forget about yesterday, Tom Cruise redeems himself in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’: 3.5 stars

06/05/2014 12:00 AM

06/05/2014 5:41 PM

Between “Oblivion,” “Jack Reacher” and the “Mission: Impossible” series, Tom Cruise has kicked a lot of cinematic butt. Overexposed? Probably.

But don’t let that dissuade you from enjoying “Edge of Tomorrow.” This is among his strongest action performances and easily his smartest movie of the decade.

If you dislike Cruise, well, think how entertaining it will be to see him killed over and over again.

His engrossing sci-fi thriller fits into the “do-over” genre, in which a character is forced to relive an experience until he gets it right. Such a perfect conceit for a generation raised on video gaming, where it’s routine to immediately start again once you’ve been killed. Next time around, you sharpen your skills and last a little longer.

Cruise plays Major Bill Cage, who excels at enlisting new recruits to repel invading aliens nicknamed Mimics. But despite his rank and ROTC pedigree, the Army Media Relations officer is no soldier. In fact, he’s a coward. An opportunistic, silver-tongued coward.

How this flaw becomes the lone hope to save the world is one of the many delights found in “Edge of Tomorrow.”

Cage is shanghaied into the United Defense Force preparing for an all-out assault on the Mimics. The military storms the beaches of France, where the enemy is supposed to be at its weakest (the film’s June 6 release date coincides with the 70th anniversary of D-Day).

Cage dies on the battlefield and wakes up in the exact same place he did the previous morning. He realizes he’s inadvertently assumed the power of a special breed of Mimic that can reset the time stream to improve its strategic edge in combat.

But he’s not the only one. A war hero named Rita (Emily Blunt), whose alpha image adorns recruitment posters, endured a similar experience. Working together, they keep revisiting the same two days, using different tactics to incrementally move closer to their objective.

“Edge of Tomorrow” will inevitably be compared to “Source Code” and “Groundhog Day,” but it has more in common with a particularly shrewd episode of TV’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” called “Cause and Effect.” In it, Enterprise crew members don’t initially realize they are reliving the same day that always ends with the ship being destroyed after encountering a space-time anomaly. How they piece together clues to escape this Sisyphean loop is what makes the show so memorable.

Director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”) and a trio of writers — Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth — bring that same detective facet to their adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel “All You Need Is Kill.” This is a movie that is constantly ahead of the audience, where smart characters do smart things to thwart a seemingly smarter menace.

“A perfectly evolved world-conquering organism,” describes a discredited scientist (Noah Taylor) who helps the pair.

The agile aliens look like a cross between an octopus and a chain saw. The humans confront them wearing weaponized exoskeletons, making the action sequences a strange hybrid of “Starship Troopers” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Liman injects a lot of blurry frenzy into these clashes, not always elegantly. But other more covert action scenes are incorporated (such as Cage attempting to outmaneuver his superiors) to offset the CGI bombardment.

The filmmakers keep the circular plot moving forward, even during a climax that comes across as Blockbuster 101. The characters pause long enough to discuss courage and sacrifice — sometimes in camouflaged ways, such as in the hilariously patronizing dialogue spouted by the master sergeant (Bill Paxton) assigned to indoctrinate Cage. It’s an in-joke that Paxton’s character is the opposite of his “game over, man” grunt he played in “Aliens.”

As for Cruise, “Edge of Tomorrow” confirms his “game” is hardly over.

‘EDGE OF TOMORROW’

3.5 stars

Rated PG-13 | Time: 1:53

3-D OR NOT 3-D?

The 3-D somewhat heightens the sensation of playing a video game. Otherwise, it does little to bolster the moviegoing experience.

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