The more he dies, the more heroic Cruise becomes in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’

In a way, the gift that Tom Cruise’s Maj. William Cage receives in “Edge of Tomorrow” is enviable. It is the ability to relive past moments in life and correct the mistakes made to ensure a better result. The down side: You have to die in order to “reset” the time and go back.

That is the premise behind “Edge of Tomorrow,” yet another in the nasty-aliens-invade-Earth genre.

With a relentless assault of “mimics” gaining more ground in an attack on the planet, mankind has found that even technological advances in weaponry cannot thwart these creatures. Amid all this, Maj. Cage, a PR officer quite content with his job that leaves him “in the rear with the gear,” is summoned to Europe to meet with Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), who tells the major he is going to be on the front lines of a massive land attack that will make or break the humans’ defense of the planet. Cage resists and is seized and rendered unconscious. When he wakes up, he finds himself at the military base where the massive assault is being prepared. He is assigned by Master Sgt. Farrell (Bill Paxton) to a squad and given a crash course in combat.

The next day the assault commences and is a disaster. Cage dies within minutes and at the moment of his death wakes up with a start and is back at the base and it is the previous day.

So once again he goes through the preparations and dies in the attack, and wakes up again back at the base. He soon realizes to his amazement he is in some sort of time loop. This is baffling to him but at least every time he goes back into battle he lasts a little longer, knowing what has happened and how to delay his death. In these battles he encounters the Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who soon realizes what is happening to Cage and tells him, “When you wake up, find me.”

Cage has to AWOL but does track down Rita on the day before the attack, and she enlightens him on what  he is experiencing and how they should be able to use this ability to gain an advantage over the enemy. Cage does not want any part of this, but Rita tells him it is either this or confinement to a psycho ward or a final stop on a dissection table. Rita takes him Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), a scientist whose theories on the alien species have been dismissed as looney but hold the secret to victory.

Once Cage has been trained — a darkly-humored sequence in which Cage’s mistakes require a “reset” — the major and Rita must go into the battle repeatedly on that deadly beach, advancing a little more in their quest to administer a crushing blow to the aliens.

Maj. Cage is not a recycled Cruise hero like Maverick of “Top Gun,” Ethan Hunt of “Mission Impossible” or Jack Reacher. For much of the movie he is bumbling and inexperienced, exasperating Rita, but eventually develops into a man now capable of rendering the final blow to the enemy.

Director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”), maintains a swift pace, slowing only as Cage and Rita analyze what they have learned and go from there. There is little time for quiet moments between Cage and Rita although they obviously have grown fond of each other. There are no back stories on either character, so their actions and reactions amid the deadly chaos have to be the key in drawing the audience to them. Fortunately, Cruise and Blunt have a chemistry together that blends well with all the action.

The screenplay, by Christopher McQuarrie (“Jack Reacher”), Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, manages to keep things rolling, with touches of humor, despite repeated scenes. The audience is held in suspense on what the next challenge will be for Cage and Rita and whether there will be yet another “reset.”

 Seth MacFarlane offers a funny view of the Old West

Seth MacFarlane, whose “Ted” has forever changed the way we view cuddly teddy bears, takes a step into Mel Brooks’ territory with his raunchy look at the Old West in “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”
Fans of MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” animated series know he likes to push the envelope in his humor, and those going in to see his “A Million Ways” can expect to be exposed to very crude material that mostly is not sophisticated — although some of the jokes may go over most people’s heads — but is infectious.
As director and co-writer — along with his collaborators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild — MacFarlane had the power to put himself in the lead role as Albert Stark, a sheep farmer of minimal success living a few miles outside of the dumpy town Stump Hill and a man who is quite aware he is out of his element trying to survive in the harsh conditions of Arizona in 1882.
The opening credits appear to be a salute to Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles,” which in turn played homage to the serious old Westerns, using the same bold and colorful type face on the screen, accompanied by a majestic orchestral theme by Joel McNeely as the musical backdrop to the panoramic views of a gorgeous land  still mostly untouched by progress.
Then there is the opening scene of a typical showdown gun duel on the main street of a town. At that point, all the seriousness breaks down.
Albert, challenged to a draw, does not approach this with narrow-eyed confidence. Instead, he talks his way out of the gun fight, promising instead restitution to the challenger in exchange for likely being shot to death.
All of this is conducted in front of the town folk, including Albert’s girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), who then dumps him and soon takes up with Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the conceited owner of the town’s mustache grooming shop.
With what little confidence he had now imploded, Albert, while sitting in a bar with his best friends, Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman), laments the lethal trappings of living in the West.
In a sidebar plot device, despite Ruth being the most popular of the town’s prostitutes, she and Edwards have a chaste relationship.
Meanwhile, the notorious gun slinger and robber Clinch Eastwood (Liam Neeson, having fun in a rare villain role) and his gang are active, and while he is conducting his work, he dispatches his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) and  Lewis (Evan Jones), one of his minions, to lay low in Stump Hill.
Lewis foolishly shoots a man in the town bar, sparking a free-for-all brawl. Albert and Edward do everything they can to avoid getting involved in the melee until Albert sees Anna in danger of being injured and saves her.
Soon, Albert and Anna strike up a friendship, as Anna lends a sympathetic ear to Albert’s lamentations. She suggests they attend the upcoming carnival as a couple in hopes of sparking jealousy in Louise. Albert is reluctant to go because, he says, people always get killed at the carnival. But Anna talks him into it.
Yes, there are some macabre but sickly humorous deaths at the carnival, but also more humiliation for Albert, who in a fit of anger challenges Foy to a gunfight. Upon regaining his senses, Albert is in a panic as he is lousy with a gun, but Anna assures him she can teach him how to shoot.
As in many adult-oriented comedies, amid the raunchiness there is a sweet undertone, and the friendship between Albert and Anna, that is able to develop because she never tells him the truth of her circumstances, is a nice pause in the hilarity. It appears that there might have been some improvisation in the conversations between Albert and Anna, as Theron’s laughter does seem spontaneous.
Of course, just as Albert and Anna fall in love, Clinch comes to town and throws everything into chaos. Before long, Albert has fled Stump Hill and is out in the middle of nowhere, where he is captured by a tribe of Native Americans, led by Cochise (Wes Studi), and this encounter is the key to Albert becoming a man who can summon the courage to face Clinch.
The story is rudimentary and predictable, but the humor comes in loud and hardy, sometimes with an unexpected bang.
“A Million Ways” is not a gentle comedy by any means, nor is it destined to be a classic. It is deeply embedded in guilty pleasure territory.
MacFarlane’s Albert is a likeable goof, and the supporting cast, particularly Theron, Ribisi and Silverman, provide some gems. Only Seyfried comes off as being under-used.

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