In “Groundhog Day,” weatherman Bill Murray has to dodge pesky insurance salesman Ned Ryerson and an icy curbside puddle as he relives the same day in Punxsutawney.
The stakes are much higher for Tom Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow” as he lives, dies and repeats the day — while the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
The setting is the near future when Earth is under attack from alien invaders, but Maj. William Cage (Mr. Cruise) is comfortably on the sidelines as a U.S. Army media relations specialist. He’s an ad man turned military flack, specializing in spin.
When Cage rankles a general (Brendan Gleeson) and refuses an order to head to the front lines of a mammoth European invasion in order to “sell” it to the public, that’s exactly where he ends up. Soldiers, even the ones who are battle tested, are slaughtered by the aliens known as Mimics, and Cage is no exception.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt.
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material.
He dies, only to ricochet back in time and relive his punishment, sweaty panic at being clamped into a RoboCop-style suit with no idea of how to use the weaponry and then the inevitable fiery, noisy, chaotic, deadly massacre on a beach reminiscent of D-Day.
He dies and resets the clock yet again. On his sixth or so gory go-around, a warrior in the same battle, Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), tells him, “Come find me when you wake up.”
That leads him to realize what’s happened — it has to do with close encounters of the Mimic kind and alien blood — and to join forces with Rita to try to build on the knowledge gleaned before his many deaths. Even that may not be enough to defeat the enemy, which has outsmarted and outmaneuvered Earthlings.
“Edge of Tomorrow,” directed by Doug Liman (“Jumper,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “The Bourne Identity”), is based on the Japanese novel “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Christopher McQuarrie, who directed Mr. Cruise in “Jack Reacher” in Pittsburgh and won an Oscar for “The Usual Suspects” script, shares screenplay credit with brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth.
It puts Mr. Cruise in a role we rarely see, that of a cowardly, terrified soldier who may wear the uniform but has never experienced combat and hates the sight of blood to boot. Armed with a blueprint of how the disastrous battle is going to unfold, however, he trains and plots how he can be smarter the next time around and inch closer to vanquishing the aliens.
And the next and next. I counted around 26 or 27 versions of the same day but with lots of days referenced but not dramatized.
“Edge of Tomorrow” is like watching someone navigate a fast-paced shooter game, trying to reach higher and higher levels until the game is won or over.
Mr. Cruise and Ms. Blunt, whose unsentimental, fit soldier is as far away from her quaking “Devil Wears Prada” assistant as she can get, make a good movie team. An attraction between the two may simmer, thanks to the endless days and mission they share, but she’s not a simpering civilian waiting for rescue.
In fact, she outranks Cage when they first meet and demands, “Who said you could talk to me?” His reply, which makes perfect sense in the context of the story: “You did. Tomorrow on the beach.”
“Edge of Tomorrow” is being shown in 2-D and 3-D and crucial nighttime, watery scenes near the end are too dark in 3-D. That is a chronic problem in far too many movies; they may look pristine in perfectly lighted and calibrated screening rooms but not in all theaters from all seats.
That ending seems to rewrite the rules a bit but, let’s face it, we’re dealing with a sci-fi thriller about aliens — monsters with tiny heads, fast-moving, octopus-like tentacles and high-pitched mechanical squeals that sound like a wrongly directed fax — that is engrossing and even mildly funny at times.
That’s true as Cage faces a “reset” or deals with a Kentucky-born officer (Bill Paxton in a mustache that makes him look like Gerald McRaney) who has an unappetizing way of dealing with a card game and a never-ending supply of aphorisms, such as “Remember, there’s no courage without fear.”
Background, even about the alien invasion, is kept to a minimum, action to a maximum. Mr. Cruise, nearly 52 years old and still doing many of his own stunts, makes a believable weasel who capably evolves into a top gun with time on his side.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: email@example.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.