No Surprises

If the future is anything like 'Oblivion,' let's just give up now

Tom Cruise spends most of Oblivion in a goofy, impractical-looking leather spacesuit get-up that clashes with his 2013 hairstyle and recalls Captain EO.

It's silly to notice these things, but Oblivion is the sort of film that causes you to notice such trivial matters, for the movie surrounding that goofy outfit is not very good.

Cruise himself is in typically fine form as Jack, a scout/worker for the surviving human race after an alien attack 60 years earlier, in 2017. The population of Earth has been sent to a Saturn moon, and Jack's job is to make sure Earth's energy resources are properly mined. He lives in a stylish outpost with a hot partner (Andrea Riseborough), their work being monitored via video by Sally (Melissa Leo), an overly nice boss.

Jack is haunted by dreams of a past Earth that he is too young to have really experienced. In his dreams, he meets with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) atop the Empire State Building, just like in Sleepless in Seattle. He's found a cabin in the woods where he wears a Yankees cap and listens to Led Zeppelin. He seems very at home for a guy who supposedly never set foot on pre-invasion Earth.

Of course, there's more to Jack's universe than meets the eye. He eventually comes face to face with Beech (Morgan Freeman), a wise old, cigar-smoking man (those cigars must be 60 years old and AWFUL) who is going to turn Jack's world upside down.

The movie has some significant twists and turns, and some of them are not at all surprising. One particular twist caught me off guard, and is pretty clever. I won't talk of these twists anymore.

As for the action, it's subpar. I actually stumbled upon Cruise on Jimmy Kimmel Live the other night before I saw the film. I turned it on during a clip showing Cruise in a funny looking little spaceship, shooting a drone-type thing out of the sky with a pistol and crashing in the desert. I thought it was a filmed Jimmy Kimmel gag because it looked a little cheap. Turns out it was the movie's major action set piece. Not too impressive.

While the Cruise performance is good, he does slip into that "Tom Cruise is determined and yelling!" mode, often reminding us of his interrogation of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise yelling is, sometimes, unintentionally funny.

Oblivion is derivative of many sci-fi films, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Total Recall, etc. A little bit of all of those movies and more can be found among the plot threads and visual effects.

As for those visual effects, they aren't too spectacular. I did like seeing the top of the Empire State Building protruding from gray earth, the ground having risen to the famous landmark's observatory deck. Otherwise, there are some weak CGI recreations of demolished landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty.

The film drags itself to its inevitable conclusion, providing no real surprises or excitement. The last scene involves something that is supposed to be triumphant but is actually quite weird. It's a head-scratcher.

Joseph Kosinski, whose only other directorial credit is Tron: Legacy, directs. Oblivion is a marked improvement over that fiasco. As with Tron, Kosinski is far more preoccupied with his visuals than with substance. But the visuals aren't anything to get excited about, and the stuff coming out of people's mouths is even less compelling.

Cruise is in a sci-fi state of mind lately. Up next, Doug Liman's All You Need Is Kill, where he plays a soldier caught in a time loop repeatedly getting killed by aliens (Cruise haters will probably get a kick out of seeing their nemesis getting repeatedly smoked). Then, it's Yukikaze, based on yet another alien invasion scenario.

In his last three films, Tom Cruise has played three similarly titled characters: Stacee "Jaxx" (Rock of Ages), Jack Reacher (Jack Reacher) and just plain Jack in this film. Another useless factoid I fixed on while being mildly bored by the ho-hum Oblivion.

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