Insanely derivative, frenetically enjoyable, "Edge of Tomorrow" takes gaming to a new level of big-screen indulgence, sending Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt through the same alien-invasion scenario over and over until they learn how to win, put down the consoles and get off the couch for a little lunch and some fresh air, maybe.
The film is based on a Japanese graphic novel "All You Need is Kill." It owes a tremendous amount of its structure, and appeal, to "Groundhog Day," with parts of "Tremors," "Starship Troopers," "Saving Private Ryan" and the underrated "Source Code" grafted onto its hull. Director Doug Liman has engineered exactly what Cruise's character refers to in the prologue: a "large mechanized invasion," with a 3-D up-charge." I'm not sure "Edge of Tomorrow" holds much repeat viewing potential among teenage movie consumers, since the movie's a self-repeating entity to begin with. But once is fun.
Time loops are handy storytelling tools, adaptable to all sorts of fantasies. Also they're funny; when a disoriented protagonist learns how to exploit the reset button and improve his chances at survival, a dire situation suddenly gets a shot of levity.
The looper here is Maj. William Cage, played by Cruise, a media-relations spin doctor and former advertising man untrained in combat. In version No. 1 of his fate, which begins at a base camp set up at London's Heathrow Airport, Cage is forced into active duty by an unscrupulous commander (Brendan Gleeson) in charge of an imminent invasion of France, where the aliens are laying waste.
The critters are called Mimics, which suggests a rogue squadron made up of Rich Little, Frank Gorshin, Catherine O'Hara and Michael Winslow, the sound effects guy from "Police Academy." But they are even more fearsome than that — superfast, squid-like killers, subterranean until it's dyin' time. Get splashed by the blood of a select breed of Mimic, as Cage is in his first, scarifying battle, and even if you "die," you're not "dead," you're simply back at the start of the day.
At first Cage cannot figure out how to maneuver in his souped-up mecha battle armor, the sort of thing Ripley used in "Aliens." After a few deaths, he gets the hang of it. Bill Paxton is swell as the Old Testament-fueled, Kentucky-bred leader of J Squad, an island of misfits joined by Cage. Busted down to private, our reluctant hero must learn to strategize, anticipate, learn from his mistakes and cope with the hopped-up maniacal adversary. The only one who believes his born-again story is the fearsome Special Forces warrior played by Blunt, introduced by way of her triceps. "Edge of Tomorrow" could, in fact, be called "Here Are My Triceps."
As in "Groundhog Day," part of the kick of Liman's film comes from watching someone try, try again until success is achieved. At one point Cage attempts a dangerous roll-under maneuver involving a speeding truck; he is killed (off-camera, because, honestly, who needs to see the results if it's a joke?); rebooted, he tries it again with slightly different timing and survives. It's like Bill Murray's encounters with Stephen Tobolowsky's insurance man on Groundhog Day, but with aliens.
The supporting characters in the script by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth aren't particularly distinctive, and Liman's preferred action mode — jiggly hand-held, very close to actors with a lot of green-screen effects behind them — has a way of muddying the action rather than heightening it. Like it or not, it's at least a conscious style; the violence is considerable but artfully steered this side of sadism. The best of the showpiece sequences is a futuristic parachute jump, very poorly handled by Cage the first time, pulled off with increasing accuracy and skill in the replays.
The climax involves Paris in flames and up to its landmarks in water, and a certain museum featured in "The Da Vinci Code." If only the Mimics could've squared off against the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon! Halfway through one of those interminable explanations about the Mona Lisa — pffffft, game over.
"Edge of Tomorrow" - 3 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material)
Running time: 1:53
Opens: Thursday eveningCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun