Who wouldn't like to restart the day before and correct all their missteps? Not spilling that cup of coffee. Not wearing those mismatched socks. Not getting on your boss’s bad side. And how about buying a winning lottery ticket now that you know the numbers?
Well, in Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, based on Hiroshi Sakurazka’s novel All You Need Is Kill, Tom Cruise as Major William Cage has multiple chances to set right his previous day's flubs, but the end result will be more momentous if he succeeds. You see, Cage, and only Cage, can save mankind from an alien invasion.
All our hero has to do is figure out how to prevent these brutal, tentacled savages who’ve landed on our planet from slaughtering him and his female sidekick Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) so the pair can locate and destroy the extraterrestrials' power core. To do so, Cage has to keep dying after he learns a bit more salient information on each rebirth. Sadly, when he wakes up to where he was the day before, none of his fellow soldiers believe his tale of resurrection, except for Vrataski who has experienced the same syndrome at another major battle.
So how does one gets this "Hey, Mom, I’m back again" power? Have one of the killer monsters bleed on you.
And how does one succeed in winning? Only by dying a hundred deaths that will never get you to heaven. But Sakurazka is not a big fan of the hereafter as he writes: "If there’s a heaven, it's a cold place. A dark place. A lonely place."
So with each ad nauseam loss of his life, Cage is slowly transformed from a callow, yellow-bellied, self-centered cad into a stoic, applaud-worthy, fearless warrior, whom you know will save the day while everyone around him remains unaltered.
For a sci-fi adventure, Edge of Tomorrow in 3D is clearly an intriguing assault on the senses. As any fan of The Bourne Identity knows, Liman can be a master of action. With James Herbert's fanatically skilled editing and Nick Davis’s in-your-face visual effects, you have little time to realize you know next-to-nothing about any of the characters. As for the creatures who almost win the battle for planet Earth, they have as much personality as Transformers’ charm-disabled behemoths.
As for Mr. Cruise and Ms. Blunt, they hold their own in parts that really could have been cast with anyone with a SAG card.
Moving on to Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, where’s Gene Wilder when you need him?
The multitalented, anarchic (and tuneful) mind behind Family Guy and Ted has decided to the deconstruct the western with himself as star. What he has achieved falls somewhere between Blazing Saddles and Blahs-ing Saddles. It’s hit and miss all the way, sort of like his brilliantly subversive manhandling of the Oscars two years back.
McFarlane stars here as the self-effacing Albert, a substandard sheep farmer, who hates everything about the Wild West: the constant killings, the dastardly diseases, and the lack of social graces. What’s worse is that his girlfriend Louise (the boundlessly bland Amanda Seyfried who really made Les Miserables miserable) has just ditched him because he’s too nice and too poor.
Enter into town Anna (a superbly feisty Charlize Theron), a gunslinging beauty who slowly wins over Albert and builds up his confidence and his ability to shoot beer bottles off a fence. She seems perfect except for a single, teen-weeny bit of info. She’s married to the nastiest, most ornery, really mean outlaw in the West, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) who’s now out to kill Albert. Will Albert survive and get the girl?
Not before we get a close-up shot of sheep’s penis peeing on him. Meanwhile, Clinch gets a flower stuck up his anus, and Albert’s best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) gets to see his first vagina.
As I noted, some of this is exceedingly funny, other moments far less so, and not for the same folks. One example: I chuckled at the ram’s urination and a deliciously imaginative hallucinogenic sequence with flying sheep; my godson shrugged at both. It was the same throughout. As they say, "One person’s treasure is another’s trash."
But in the end, if I had paid for both of these entertainments, I would certainly feel I had gotten my money's worth, and what greater acclaim is there than that. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writinggroup FlashPoint.