July 16th, 2014

EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) ***

Here’s a case of bad trailer, good movie. For the past ten months, I’ve seen the trailers for Edge of Tomorrow over a dozen times. By my count, there were at least three different trailers, and none of them made the film look especially interesting. Still, I was convinced that somewhere buried underneath the awfully edited trailer was a decent flick trying desperately to get out.

And I’m happy to report my instincts were right. None of the trailers came remotely close capturing the feel (or the fun) of the film. You can say at least one thing for the trailers: They didn’t spell out every single plot point like 90% of previews do. But that’s kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand, many of the plot twists were genuinely surprising. On the other hand, I think it could’ve been a blockbuster had it been properly advertised.

Essentially it’s a sci-fi action remake of Groundhog Day. Tom Cruise is a cowardly soldier suckered into battle against an alien invasion in which he does not survive. For some reason, he is forced to relive the day over and over again, and he tries desperately to escape his fate. Cruise then joins up with a sexy super-soldier (Emily Blunt) who may or may not know the secret to his dilemma.

Edge of Tomorrow not only borrows heavily from Groundhog Day, but there are also elements of Starship Troopers and The Matrix at work here. And part of the fun is seeing how the filmmakers cherry pick different elements from other movies and put them together to create something rather unique. And while the film doesn’t exactly stick the landing, the first two acts are genuinely clever, involving, and a lot of fun.

The film is anchored by a terrific performance by Tom Cruise. He has a great character arc as he goes from playing a slimy weasel who gets blackmailed onto the battlefield to a genuine hero. Through dying every day in battle, he slowly becomes a better soldier and a better man and his transformation is a lot of fun to watch.

Director Doug (Swingers) Liman finds clever ways to play with the audience’s expectations too. The scenes of Cruise dying multiple times are awesome. I’ve seen a lot of critics dismiss the film as essentially a video game since Cruise will get up to a certain part of the day before dying, then has to figure a way around the next obstacle when his day resets. But the way Liman works humor and suspense into these scenes make them a real treat. Sometimes, we follow Cruise as he’s mowing down aliens left and right. Other times, we get a series of kill screens of Cruise biting the dust in often hilarious ways.

Blunt is fun as the sexy and badass soldier who agrees to train Cruise. And while it was cool to see Bill Paxton as Cruise’s superior, his performance is stuck in third gear. Every time it looks like he’s going to break out and go full tilt, old school, Aliens-Near Dark-Dark Backward-era Bill Paxton, he never quite pulls the trigger.

Once Cruise loses his power to conquer death, the film likewise loses its mojo. The final action sequence is kinda underwhelming and the ending is predictable. Still, there is plenty of cool stuff here to make it a worthy vehicle for Cruise. And while it got lost in the shuffle at the box office, it is definitely ripe for rediscovery once it gets to DVD.

ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955) *

I’ve seen some moronic, maudlin, melodramatic motion pictures in my time, but this is one of the worst I’ve ever been subjected to. Director Douglas (Imitation of Life) Sirk made an entire career out of making soap opera claptrap like this. But even by his extremely syrupy standards, All That Heaven Allows is pretty hard to sit through.

The former Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman stars as a widow who strikes up a romance with her handyman, played by Rock Hudson. Pretty soon, everyone in the town is gossiping about the new couple and passing judgment on them. Even her kids shun them and make life miserable for the couple. Jane eventually calls the relationship off, but when Rock suffers a near-death experience, she rushes to be at his side.

This is the kind of bullshit that gives Chick Flicks a bad name. There is not one single solitary surprise to be had in All That Heaven Allows. From the predictable scenes of Wyman dealing with her peers over her poor choice of suitor, to the eye-rolling scene where Rock falls off a mountain, this movie is peppered with tons of clichés and awful acting.

Wyman is OK, but it’s hard to really care about her character. And you can tell Rock would rather be somewhere else. I’m glad he finally got out of being pigeonholed as a romantic leading man so he could do some badass stuff like Seconds and Embryo. I wouldn’t want to be stuck doing shit like this my whole life either.