Not to get all meta on you, but if you take a moment to peruse a range of other reviews of this flick, I can practically guarantee you they will make mention of Harold Ramis' much-beloved comedy/philosophical treatise Groundhog Day (now, including this one). This is because of the similarities of concept: Both films feature protagonists forced into reliving the same day over and over again, no matter how many times they die in the process. But while the conceit might be similar, the execution is wildly different. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray learns how to love humbly his fellow man (and woman); in Doug Liman's alien invasion action epic, Tom Cruise has to learn how to properly be a Tom Cruise hero.
He certainly isn't when we first meet him. He plays a smarmy military PR flack named William Cage, looking to do a glossy piece on a major offensive against the alien force that has mostly terrorized the Earth over the past few years (in response, humans see fit to form one cohesive military operation, known as the United Defense Force). When informed by a general that he will actually be sent to the front lines in a soldier capacity, Cage first tries to talk his way out of it, then attempts to blackmail the general and finally, in cowardly desperation, tries to run away.
At the front, things don't go terribly well. Unable to even unlock the safety on his powerful, metallic exoskeleton armor, he's vaporized by one of the swirling, lightning fast ropy aliens, but not before it bleeds on him. This, in turn, strangely keeps him alive, so that he wakes into the exact same day over and over, reliving the battle and everything that happens, no matter what he does differently beforehand. It turns out the alien hive mind has the ability to warp time in its favor, learning all of its enemy's plans, and relaunching their attacks accordingly.
Eventually, Cage meets Rita (Emily Blunt), a fierce warrior known as the "Angel of Verdun" for leading the troops to their only victory of significance against the alien invaders. The two hatch a plan to defeat the enemy, but the sheer complexity and difficulty makes for a great number of false starts, each of which ends with Cage dying.
At first, the film shows some interesting promise. Cruise plays decidedly against type (save for the smarmy charm with which he first plies his trade), Liman and an assortment of screenwriters (including Bryan Singer fave Christopher McQuarrie), working from the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, have some fun with Cage's dilemma, and the alien whippets -- known as "mimics" -- are convincingly formidable. But before too long, the plot begins to cut significant corners, things get terribly convenient and, by the end, the suspect plot logic utterly falls apart in favor of an idiotically beatific ending.
Cruise, who has made approximately 750 such sci-fi action thrillers in his long career, appears to almost want to stretch his range, but he knows far too well what side of the bread his butter is on. You could make the case that the premise of the film itself is a parable for the life of the world's biggest action star: Wake up, go to the makeup trailer, pretend to wipe out your enemies as you sprint like mad in front of a green screen, and move on to the next project, which offers little difference other than a new leading lady to fret over and a new villain to pummel. One would think he would be getting too long in the tooth for such fare -- the actor will turn a robust 52 in July -- at least for anything but a Sly Stallone vehicle (maybe The Expendables 6), but there's something almost demonically ageless about Cruise and his insatiable desire to be a movie star. As much as he might be overexposed and of limited range, there is an undeniable quality to a "Tom Cruise movie" that can still make a film feel bigger and more important than it actually is, and there are precious few actors left with us who have that ability.
This doesn't excuse his various flops and misses (as anyone who suffered through Knight & Day can attest), nor the fact that he's making essentially the same sort of film over and over, but it does suggest iconic Hollywood leading men are a rare commodity right at the moment, and for all my other misgivings about him, I have to acknowledge his still formidable star power. It's just that none of that helps when he's working with material so ready to cop to studio notes and audience think tanks, that it completely sells itself out in the process of ending on a happy note.
So what we have here is the perfect synergy between filmed entertainment and video game mentality -- Cruise re-spawns each time he screws up, and starts his "level" over and over, only to finally reach his stated goal. With slithering aliens, multiple futuristic looking weapons and the blazing ack-ack fire of heavy artillery, never has a film been made more ready for its console version. But no matter how dense or twisty they may get, even games have to follow their own plot logic, which ultimately makes Cruise's film the kind of title that would go for months without being played, gathering dust sitting on top of your Xbox 360.
MovieStyle on 06/06/2014
Print Headline: Another day at the office/Tom Cruise is back, battling evil aliens and whupping up … sound familiar?