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EDGE OF TOMORROW: 4 STARS. “more ‘Groundhog Day’ than it is ‘War of the Worlds.'”

edge_of_tomorrow_2014_movie-wide“Edge of Tomorrow” may sound like the title of a soap opera, but it’s actually the name of a new and unusual Tom Cruise alien invasion flick. In it Cruise battles nasty space bugs called Mimics but the story is more “Groundhog Day” than it is “War of the Worlds.”

Set at the height of a worldwide battle between the human race and seemingly indestructible aliens called Mimics, Cruise plays William Cage, a marketing genius who lost his advertising firm when the world was thrown into chaos following the invasion. He now works for the army, selling war to the masses. He’s inspired millions of people to enlist by telling them the story of hero Rita (Emily Blunt), a legendary warrior with more Mimics notches on her belt than the rest of the army combined.

When he is pressed into active service on the eve of a massive offensive, he proves that while he may be an officer, he’s no gentleman. “I can’t stand the sight of blood,” he says trying to weasel out of the dangerous duty, “not so much as a paper cut.” His cowardly antics get him arrested and shipped to the front lines where, following a wild deployment scene that sees Cruise and Co plunged into Mimic territory, he is promptly killed.

That’s right. A Tom Cruise character in a Tom Cruise movie is killed in the first twenty minutes. But this is where things get interesting, and strange.

Instead of shuffling off this mortal coil, he actually wakes up and starts his journey all over again. Over and over he wakes to the unmelodious sound of a drill sergeant calling him “Maggot” but each time he has learned something more that helps him cope with the situation.

The only person who believes his strange story is Rita. Together they “reset the day” repeatedly and start anew with the info he’s learned. Eventually he’ll know enough to beat this unbeatable foe. Trouble is, he has to die every day…

Two thirds of “Edge of Tomorrow” is as Un-Cruiselike a movie as Tom has ever made. The “Groundhog Day” been-there, done-that section of the film is inventive, often played for laughs and presents Cruise in a way we’ve rarely ever seen him—as a coward. It’s a refreshing twist for him and gives him a chance to exercise his rarely used comedic chops. You know he’s going to turn heroic sooner or later, but it’s a blast to see him do something just outside his usual wheelhouse.

Just as important to the film is Blunt’s take on Rita. This is something different for her—she’s arguably best known for the comedy “The Devil Wears Prada”—and for action movies in general. Big budget blockbusters don’t usually make room for female characters unless they are sidekicks or girlfriends. Here Blunt avoids being objectified and is as strong, if not stronger than Cruise.

Director Doug Liman has figured out clever and entertaining ways to show the same thing over and over, keeping it exciting with interesting editing and changing perspectives. The first two reels are packed with energy and invention it’s only when the conventions that made the story enticing are put aside in the last reel that the movie becomes a standard Cruise action flick. A good Cruise action flick but still more standard than the promising first hour.

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