USA TODAY - Oblivion is a slick spectacle - seeing the humorless but ultra-fit Tom Cruise wrestle with himself might be worth the price of admission alone.
But with the film (* * ½ out of four; rated PG-13; opens Friday nationwide) focusing squarely on style, substance falls by the post-apocalyptic wayside. Director Joseph Kosinski focuses on cool visuals but stints on a compelling plot. It's a dazzler, but the story lacks the impact of the futuristic look.
Cruise's performance as Jack Harper is the best of the lot, but that's because he's given the closest thing to a fully-realized character. The rest of the talented cast might as well be cardboard cutouts.
The plot's muddled internal logic leaves some substantial holes. But even more dramatically, this story of Earth in 2077 loses its way in the film's second half. It also is startlingly derivative as Kosinski, who directed 2010's TRON: Legacy, draws from a grab bag of sci-fi predecessors, including WALL•E, Total Recall, Planet of the Apes and The Matrix.
Still, neither the sci-fi or the vague political commentary are involving. And while Cruise's character is given two romantic interests (played by Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko), the actor doesn't connect with either. It's his star vehicle and he runs with it in a way that only the intense actor can.
When we meet Jack, Earth is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, except for the crumbling ruins of iconic New York buildings and a few off-the-grid verdant sites. Jack zips around in an ultra-mod helicopter. He's a technician who repairs drones and lives in a minimalist house at the top of a tower with girlfriend/co-worker Victoria (Riseborough). She mans the controls as he flits about looking for malfunctioning drones and lurking "scavs," leftover scavengers from the planet's destruction some 60 years back.
It's Victoria's job to check in daily with Mission Control, embodied by the frighteningly cheerful chief (Melissa Leo.) Every day, after asserting it's "another wonderful day in paradise," Victoria is asked if she and Jack are still "an effective team." Victoria doesn't miss a beat with her chipper assurances.
But Jack is not feeling all that effective. Even though he and Victoria had their memories scoured (for security reasons), he's haunted by recurring dreams of a mysterious dark-haired woman. Earth has a powerful pull on Jack. Victoria, on the other hand, can't wait to join the rest of the human race that has migrated to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. "Only two more weeks," she keeps reminding Jack, like a movie cop with only a couple weeks left until retirement.
Jack's Earth-bound reveries are intensified when he rescues a human survivor (Kurylenko) from crash wreckage.
Just as in the Mission Impossible movies, War of the Worlds and Top Gun, Jack is a classic hero. He's bent on saving the world and we don't ever doubt that he will. If only he was more complicated and flawed. The biggest complication for him is his relationship with Victoria and his pull toward the woman he saved.
Morgan Freeman is always a welcome presence, but he's given too little screen time as the leader of an underground human resistance group.
When the time comes for the big reveal, we're almost oblivious since the story's vitality has waned.
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