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Cinema Signal: A rare "never a dull moment" thrill with jokes. Green light. MOBILE version |
All You Need Is Kill
(The book>
. "Edge of Tomorrow"

In an ingenious variation on "Groundhog Day," director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity") and writers Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects"), Jez Butterworth ("Birthday Girl") and others, take us to the future and prove that repetition doesn't mean boredom. Far from it. Their futuristic time-loop fantasy is a vehicle for totally engaging action, romantic promise, and all the humor of repetition as a learning tool that gets you on top of those who would humiliate a new recruit in the barracks.

It's a time when human existence is being threatened by an invasion force of ferocious extra-terrestrial monstrosities known as Mimics. It's also a superbly inventive framework for bringing Tom Cruise and gorgeous Emily Blunt ("Looper") together.

Major William Cage (Cruise) is what we know as a celebrity soldier. Gung ho all the way... until it involves him being exposed to danger. There, he draws the line. Yes, he wears the uniform but, no, he has no combat training, and exposing himself to an enemy just isn't for him.

Trouble is, Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson, "Safe House") had him signed up in the NATO-led United Defence Force (UDF) in Operation Downfall against invading aliens before Cage entered his office. And, before Cage knows it, his "them, not me" attitude has won him a stripping of his rank and a well-rehearsed ream-out in masterly style by Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton "2 Guns") who knows Cage's sort. As Cage collects his new gear, he's subjected to more insults from his new peer group -- his "J Squad" barrack mates.

By the time he's suited up in a futuristic battle dress known as a "jacket" and takes his place in the first wave of similarly hopelessly under-equipped and under-trained defence forces entering the field of battle on a French beach, (with memories of the WWII Normandy invasion) you could say one thing for him: he's the worst soldier on the beach.

But, then, does it really matter? The operation, and human destiny, is none too promising once we see that they've stepped into an ambush. The mimics have foreseen the UDF attack.

Call it a jaws of death "massacre."

While shooting and dodging the enemy beasties, he spots Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt, "Looper"), the veteran known as the "Angel of Verdun" for the zealous fury with which she wields her sword -- an image out of Joan of Arc. Feminists will love it. Meanwhile, the whirling, metallic creatures who are blasting away at our forces with barbaric savagery, Cage is confronted by a supersize mimic. What's a playboy to do?

Thank goodness for the prop guys. Before you can say Tom Cruise, he grabs an unexploded mine to smash the creature and is swamped in its blood as he realizes he's taken a mortal wound. He's gone.

Except he's not! He reawakens to live another day where he started -- along with everyone and every thing else. Once again he endures the Master Sergeant's spiel -- only this time he anticipates it.

Again he goes through the reject squad's insults. But, this time, he's readier on that beach because he remembers everything from his former cycle. And, with that stunning "angel" on his mind, he finds beauty Brataski engaged in battle and tells her what has happened. Though she has no memory of Cage's prior life, surprisingly, she recognizes what's going on and explains it to him. She once had the reset ability but lost it when she was given a blood transfusion.

Cage again loses to a mimic but just before he receives the death blow, Vratasky shouts to him: "find me when you wake up!" Now, with each round of death and resetting, he has an ally while picking up more experience and strategic knowledge about the enemy. In a dream he envisions the mimics' "Omega," and its hiding place from which it commands its clones -- the "mimic" forces it spawns to accomplish its mission.

With this insight, the worst soldier on the battle field has become the single best hope for mankind's survival!

The brilliance of this conception goes to Hiroshi Sakurazaka for his 2009 novel "All You Need Is Kill." In it, what we know as the "Angel of Verdun" is called the "Full Metal Bitch" and Cage is Kiriya. But no less praise for ingenuity goes to the adapters, the director and his pretty much ideal star casting of Cruise and Blunt.

Cruise is well equipped to sell his malingering Major who uses the military system to avoid anything that smells of cordite or personal harm. But, he's also the athlete who pulls of some of the hairiest actor stunt work ("Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol"that calls for an acrobat's body strength, skill and fearlessness. Combine that with the developmental arc in his portrayal here and he should gain respect for acting muscle and comedic timing. All of which should add a buzz to his marquee value and cause a cynic to give him a break.

Blunt's stardom is on the rise, making her an ideal commercial choice in a Tom Cruise adventure. But... putting her on an equal footing with Cruise in combat action may be to stretch physical capabilities a bit. Liman makes that side of her role as convincing as possible, but he's quick to take her off the battlefield for a lot of footage as an indoor trainer for combat specifically against a mimic. This, however, calls for no physical activity from her (it's all for Cage, as the trainee), making it evident that part of her job is to show enough fitness for the image even if the athleticism is a challenge. (If they wanted that they probably could have pulled Michelle Rodriguez off the set of the latest "Fast & Furious.") No, but still, Blunt is a virtue in the film on the narrative side and I can watch her fitness all day.

Cinematographer Dion Beebe ("Collateral") does his part to make her, as well as the rest of the film, a stunning thing to watch.

This is the making of more tension than a TV cable on a telephone pole out of a fresh idea for a well-mounted sci-fi thriller that knows when to give us a laugh. If you can believe that repetitions of death/life can be used as a slow build toward gaining on an invincible enemy, you'll appreciate that this creative team has made a movie in which there isn't a dull moment.

It even comes in under two hours.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Tom Cruise as Private William Cage.
Learning that fighting mimics is no walk on the beach.

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