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‘Tomorrow’ great, thoughtful fun

Movie: Edge of Tomorrow; Director: Doug Liman; Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 4 out of 5 stars.

Nearly two weeks after its release, the new Tom Cruise film “Edge of Tomorrow” has made back its estimated $178 million budget and then some thanks to international box office figures nearly three times what the film pulled in domestic theaters, according to figures available on movie industry website (boxofficemojo.com). It’s too bad, though, that the film had such an upward battle to climb to make back that money, because it’s nothing short of phenomenal as far as summer blockbusters go.

That’s because it’s both thoughtful and ridiculously entertaining throughout its nearly two hour run-time.

Cruise plays U.S. Army Major William Cage, who does the public relations thing so he won’t have to have his boots on the ground. He spins the stories on the news, the talk shows, the newspapers, everything. In the opening media montage of a war of the worlds in the process of destroying ours, he smiles that classic movie star smile and tells the world that the international united military front has this whole thing with the aliens under control.

International General Brigham, though, has different ideas about how Cage should serve the war. He’ll be shipped out to Normandy Beach in what is supposed to be a simple entry point to defending greater France and knocking the extra terrestrial scourge out for good. But Cage insists he’s just a PR man whose only training came from ROTC in college. They butt heads and Cage is demoted to a private and sent to relive hell day after day after day … .

“Wake up, maggot,” a field sergeant says to Cage, still in his military jacket and some fresh handcuffs, who is lying on some knapsacks at Heathrow Airport.

Nobody knows who he is and Master Sgt. Farell doesn’t believe his story at all but assures him that he’ll be given the excellent opportunity to be the same rank as everybody else in the eyes of God during glorious battle … over and over again.

You see, when wimpy little Major/Private Cage drops on Normandy in what is 1986’s “Aliens” meets 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” in his exoskeleton super weapon of a suit, he gets slaughtered like all the others. The only difference comes in the form of his battle with an Alpha “Mimic,” which is larger and much more ferocious than the other Mimic aliens, in the form of a claymore mine that removes both their faces but allows him to … .

“Wake up, maggot,” the sergeant says to him again, not recognizing him.

These early scenes of reliving that fateful day are actually quite funny. They had the whole theater laughing in the ways that Cage tries to hurry the less important parts of his day along and form connections that allow him to progress a little further from each time he wakes up to a “Maggot” to when he inevitably dies, and not only from the Mimics.

Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily

Blunt) is known as the “Full Metal Bitch,” a war hero who carries a giant sword to end the lives of countless Mimics and whose heroism and nastiness have made her the international military’s greatest figurehead in recruiting for the fight against annihilation. But she didn’t become the war hero the same way others do – she had to relive that one battle over and over until she won it perfectly. We know this because she reveals it all before shooting Cage in the head to start the day over, over and over, until they get it right and save the world.

Obviously you can add the 1993 Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day” to the elevator pitch of movies this one is like. You’d be wrong to believe that the only similarity between the two films is the reliving of an important day, though. The heart that made “Groundhog Day” a classic is evident still in “Edge of Tomorrow” behind all the explosions, plane crashes, torment and hell that is an impossible war. No small part of that is the excellent work of the film’s two leads.

Cruise actually bows down his ego for a change and becomes the ill-informed and ill-prepared wimp. After a career of playing tough experts and professionals, he finally has a chance to shine in a role that requires tiny steps from complete idiot to world savior. Blunt, despite a seemingly delicate face and size, shines in her role filled of sweat-covered female virility and spitting lack of patience. Beneath that exterior, though, she wants nothing more than to end this war and stop the endless slaughter of humans unprepared for it. And since she can no longer live her days over until things are perfect, she sees in Cage a necessary vessel for fulfilling that goal.

The film isn’t without its flaws here and there, though. The aliens, for one, were distractingly similar to the ones in 1999’s “The Matrix” that terrorized the good ship Nebuchadnezzar. Likewise, there were moments that were tailored just right for only science fiction action fanboys to enjoy. Bill Paxton being cast as a smiling Sgt. Major Farell in a film that features fighting exoskeletons is totally for fans of his awesome, whiny character in “Aliens.” References to the “Alien” franchise in general made it in throughout the film, as do lighter ones to the “Terminator” films and others. This is only a problem, though, if you don’t like to have fun with your film history.

The film had me in open-eyed wonder – the likes of which I haven’t been for years, as nothing but paltry action film offerings or superhero sagas continue their parade across movieplex screens. There was wit, heart, action and a lack of pretense that couldn’t have been more refreshing. The low box office performance seems to show that American audiences may be treating Cruise the way they are treating Johnny Depp, but unlike Depp, Cruise never started phoning in his performances for a paycheck – and that deserves another look.

(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday’s Arts &?Entertainment section.)