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25 Apr 2013

Tom Cruise Is Great in the Otherwise Lackluster 'Oblivion'

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Tom Cruise in Oblivion. Tom Cruise in Oblivion.

Tom Cruise spends most of Oblivion in a goofy, impractical-looking leather space suit that clashes with his 2013 hairstyle and reminds of Captain EO.

Yes, it’s silly to notice these things, but Oblivion is the sort of film that causes one to notice such trivial matters, for the movie surrounding that goofy outfit is not that good.

Cruise, however, is in typically fine form as Jack, a scout/worker for the surviving human race, following a devastating alien attack 60 years before (in 2017). The remaining population of Earth has been sent to a moon of Saturn, 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), and their work is being monitored via video by Sally (Melissa Leo), an overly nice boss.

Jack is haunted by dreams of a past Earth world that he is too young to have experienced. In his dreams, he meets up 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. However, one particular twist caught me off guard, and is pretty clever.

As for the action, it’s sub-par. I actually stumbled upon Cruise on Jimmy Kimmel’s show 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 gag, because it looked cheap. Turns out it was the movie’s major action-set piece.

While the Cruise performance is good, he does slip into that Tom Cruise-yelling mode, often reminding 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 that came before it, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Total Recall, etc. A little bit of all of those movies and others can be found among the plot threads and visual effects.

As for those visual effects, they aren’t spectacular. I did like seeing the top of the Empire State Building protruding from grey 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.

Joseph Kosinski directs; his only other directorial credit is TRON: Legacy. Oblivion is a marked improvement over that fiasco. As with TRON, Kosinski is far more preoccupied with visuals over substance. And in both cases, the visuals aren’t anything to get excited about.

Cruise is in a sci-fi state of mind these days. Up next is Doug Liman’s All You Need Is Kill, in which he plays a soldier caught in a time loop and 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 most recent three films, Tom Cruise has played similarly titled characters: Stacee Jaxx (Rock of Ages), Jack Reacher (Jack Reacher) and just plain Jack in this film. That’s another useless factoid I fixed on while being mildly bored by the ho-hum Oblivion.

Oblivion is playing in theaters across the valley.

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