Review: 'Oblivion' gets by on Cruise control

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Once again, a future Earth is decimated by war and other ominous forces in "Oblivion," a slightly above average sci-fi action thriller that leans heavier on its elaborate special effects rather than emotion to wow its audience.

This difference this time around, however, is that the future of mankind is depending on Tom Cruise to save it, which is not entirely a bad thing.

"Oblivion" is set in 2077, 60 years after the Earth is left in shambles after the moon is blown up and the planet is thrown off balance. Utter chaos ensued and eventual ruin was the end result after everyone let their nuclear weapons fly.

Cruise stars as Commander Jack Harper, a high-tech drone technician (curious timing as the drone debate rages on in the U.S.) who returns to Earth frequently from his space station to make sure the sophisticated mechanical killing machines (think probe droids from "Star Wars," but much bigger and full of firepower) are in tip-top shape so they can take out any hostile forces they come across. The main enemy is the Scavs (presumably short for scavengers), a race of alien appearance who mostly lurk in underground.

Smart and efficient at his job, the only thing that plagues Jack is the recurring dream of a beautiful woman in a pre-disaster Earth 60 years earlier, where they meet atop New York City's Empire State Building. The dreams are the apparent remnants of a memory that remain with Jack, even though his superiors wiped his mind clean. After a spaceship crashes on Earth's surface containing a life pod of the same woman, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), however, Jack realizes that he may be caught up in an operation much more sinister than he ever could have imagined.

See the trailer for "Oblivion" below.

Written and directed by Joseph Kosinski, based on his own graphic novel, "Oblivion" is not surprisingly visually spectacular, given the fact that Kosinski helmed the "Tron: Legacy," which featured a slew of awe-inspiring special effects. His visions of whirling spacecrafts, drones and the post-apocalyptic surface of Earth are incredibly impressive, particularly when viewed and heard in the IMAX format.

Kosinski is no doubt a smart filmmaker, and while he attempts to strike a balance between his visuals and narrative, the story just can't seem to muster enough steam to engage you emotionally and just feels sterile. He does manage to throw a major twist in the second half regarding Jack that confuses more than anything -- that is, until the big reveal near the film's conclusion.

Muddled plotlines notwithstanding, not all is lost in Kosinski's overly-ambitious story.

Kurylenko, who previously starred as a Bond girl in "Quantum of Solace," is effective here, as is Andrea Riseborough -- a British stunner who is given a lot more to play with, emotionally, as Jack's communications officer, Victoria, his sole work partner and lover. Melissa Leo also pops up frequently on a computer screen as a charming southern Belle named Sally who calling the shots from the mothership.

Morgan Freeman gets a top billing in "Oblivion," too, but truth be told, he's really a supporting player with maybe 20 minutes screen time in the two hour film. As a fervent survivalist on Earth, Freeman is great, as usual, but ultimately is underused.

Cruise, unmistakably, is the star of "Oblivion," and while he commands your attention as Commander Jack -- I've never let reports of his personal life cloud the fact that he's a good actor -- he's just simply in Cruise control here. Cruise is no doubt good at playing Tom Cruise, and fans of his action films will exactly get what they're expecting here.

If anything, "Oblivion" could have a lot more of a character portrayal from Cruise. He's proven that he's capable of doing characters before as the uproarious scumbag Hollywood agent in "Tropic Thunder," and most recently, as the burnt out rocker, Stacee Jaxx, in his woefully under-appreciated performance in last summer's movie musical "Rock of Ages."

Of course, with "Oblivion" locked in, it's too late to lament what might have been now. The performance -- and ultimately, the film -- will simply have its run and float off into the movie oblivion with everything else that doesn't inspire to be a bit more daring.

"Oblivion," rated PG-13, 2 1/2 stars out of 4.

What other local critics are saying …

Chris Hewitt in his 2 star review in the Pioneer Press compares stretches of "Oblivion" to a "Twilight" film, where it's a "solemn melodrama that has at its core an otherworldly romantic triangle."

Colin Covert of the Star Tribune loves the film, calling it "mesmerizing" in his 3 1/2 star review. He also calls "Oblivion" a" breathtaking collage of welcome originality and references to a huge common cultural bank of fantasy images and themes."

Minnesota Public Radio's Stephanie Curtis was disappointed in the film, saying Kosinski aimed high with "trying to say something deep about humanity, but he doesn't do it," and thought "Prometheus" did it better last year.

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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