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updated: 6/6/2014 12:06 AM

Time travel, aliens and Tom Cruise make for explosive 'Edge'

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  • Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) battles aliens over and over again in the time-shifting thriller "Edge of Tomorrow."

      Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) battles aliens over and over again in the time-shifting thriller "Edge of Tomorrow."

  • Experienced fighter Rita (Emily Blunt) teaches William Cage (Tom Cruise) how to better battle alien enemies in the time-shifting thriller "Edge of Tomorrow."

      Experienced fighter Rita (Emily Blunt) teaches William Cage (Tom Cruise) how to better battle alien enemies in the time-shifting thriller "Edge of Tomorrow."

  • Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) battles aliens over and over again in the time-shifting thriller "Edge of Tomorrow."

      Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) battles aliens over and over again in the time-shifting thriller "Edge of Tomorrow."

  • Video: Edge of Tomorrow trailer

 
By Jake Coyle, Associated Press

The time-shifting sci-fi thriller "Edge of Tomorrow" perfectly encapsulates what it is to be a summertime moviegoer. We're dropped into a battlefield of digital effects with the fate of the world at stake. Torrents of gunfire and explosions surround. Some alien clonks us over the head.

We black out and it all happens again. And again.

"Edge of Tomorrow," in which Tom Cruise plays an officer who continually relives a day of combat against extraterrestrials, probably isn't a commentary on the repetitiveness of today's blockbusters. Its star, after all, has been the unchanging, unstoppable avatar of big summer movies.

But in the film directed by Doug Liman ("Swingers," "The Bourne Identity"), the action-star persona of Cruise is put into a phantasmagorical blender. As military marketer Maj. William Cage, he's thrown into battle against his will by an unsympathetic general (the excellent Brendan Gleeson), and then finds himself stuck in a mysterious time loop.

Cruise dies dozens of times over and over, often in comical ways. Does this sound like a great movie, or what?

The selling point of "Edge of Tomorrow" may indeed be seeing one of Hollywood's most divisive icons reduced to Wile E. Coyote. He's like a real-life version of the video game "Contra," with the code of seemingly endless life. Dying again and again, Cruise has rarely been so likable.

Based on the 2004 Japanese novella "All You Need is Kill," "Edge of Tomorrow" begins in the de rigueur fashion of news clips that catch us up on five years of alien invasion that has -- with historical symmetry -- encompassed Europe and left the beaches of northern France as the primary point of battle.

Cage is dumped on an aircraft carrier, callously sent into battle by a commanding officer (a very fun Bill Paxton, spouting lines like, "Battle is the great redeemer" in a Kentucky accent), and outfitted in a high-tech exoskeleton he doesn't know how to operate. When he lands on Normandy or thereabouts, he's an easy target for the aliens, dubbed Mimics.

The Mimics resemble black, scampering dreadlock wigs or electrified Rorschach Tests. When a particularly big one swallows Cage, his day resets. This is "Groundhog Day" with guns.

This time around, though, it's not Sonny and Cher that wake him up each day but a drill sergeant calling him "maggot." Whereas Bill Murray got to learn how to play the piano and fall in love, Cage must become a better killer. He strives to make it through the battle, getting a little further each time before dying. He quickly pairs with the most celebrated fighter in the war (Emily Blunt), who recognizes his strange predicament.

"Edge of Tomorrow," which was penned by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, entertains in its narrative playfulness -- another entry in the burgeoning fad of puzzle-making sci-fi, as seen in "Inception" and "Looper." Few filmmakers have Liman's knack for smart plotting; his much earlier "Go" inventively connected three intertwined stories.

The zippiness does fade in the second half of "Edge of Tomorrow." And the title (perhaps the most belabored way possible of saying "tonight") could also use a replay. But among countless sequels and remakes, the high-concept "Edge of Tomorrow" -- both a Tom Cruise celebration and parody -- is the right kind of a rerun.

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