Movie review: Stellar cast can't save 'Oblivion'

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In "Oblivion," Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) says he underwent a "mandatory memory wipe" five years earlier. But he's haunted by vivid recurring dreams that seem more like recollections of a golden time and place and, most of all, a woman.

But how can that be possible? Are there feelings so deep in the DNA or the heart or soul that they cannot be denied? And wouldn't it be helpful if reviewers could have their memories occasionally wiped so they're not distracted by similarities to other sci-fi films? I suspect age will take care of that.


2.5 stars = Average
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko and Melissa Leo.

  • Rating:

    PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality, nudity.

"Oblivion," directed by Joseph Kosinski (2010's "Tron: Legacy") and based on his original story, is set in 2077 on a nearly unrecognizable Earth.

Alien scavengers, or Scavs, destroyed the moon -- it's a bright broken smear in the sky -- which threw Earth into weather-related disaster and, then, war.

As Jack puts it: "We won the war but lost the planet."

Jack, the last drone repairman stationed on Earth, shares a working and personal relationship with Victoria or Vika (Andrea Riseborough), who serves as his navigator. They are two weeks away from completing their mission, escaping from the vicious Scavs who still lurk about, and joining the other survivors on a Saturn moon where life goes on.

Vestiges of the old wonderful world remain -- a concrete curl of the observation deck of the Empire State Building, a floor to chandeliered ceiling slice of the New York Public Library, a goal post from a time when the Super Bowl was still played, a baseball and mitt, and even a stash of albums by the likes of Procol Harum and a working turntable.

Vika wants to do nothing to jeopardize the couple's impending departure, but when Jack rescues a mysterious woman, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), from a sleeping pod in a vessel that crash lands, their future -- individually, together and as part of the larger universe -- is threatened in unimaginable ways.

Although you can find the entire summary of "Oblivion" on Wikipedia (that is not an endorsement) Universal Pictures asks that reviewers not reveal key plot points, which is only fair. Some you will see coming, some not, but you should discover them on your own.

The look of "Oblivion" is futuristic and sleek. Jack flies a Bubbleship aircraft, a cross between a helicopter and jet fighter, and he and Vika live in a Skytower, a glass rectangle mounted high on a metal stake poking into the clouds and looking like something inspired by "The Jetsons."

Everything is clean, spare and transparent, from the walls of the pool outside their sliding glass doors to the pre-packaged food they eat or the medical equipment they keep on hand. Clothing is muted gray or white, until Jack encounters another world of chaos, color and red-hot resistance.

"Oblivion," which has some elements reminiscent of "WALL-E," "Planet of the Apes," "Moon," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and other sci-fi films, aims high and high-minded with references to a poem about a lionhearted episode in ancient Rome and its explorations of the bonds of love and power of sacrifice.

But despite a well-cast Mr. Cruise, who looks perfectly at home and heroic here, and a supporting cast that also counts Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo, "Oblivion" too often seems chilly and remote. Characters play second fiddle to story twists and the chemistry between a couple that should be sublime is serviceable.

"Oblivion" is stunning to look at but its emotional gravitational pull is on the weak side.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published April 19, 2013 4:00 AM


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