April 25, 2013

'Oblivion' slick, tells good story


---- — The new Tom Cruise sci-fi blockbuster “Oblivion” may look vaguely familiar.

The film borrows from any number of genre classics; look closely, and you might see a glimpse of “Planet of the Apes,” “Star Wars,” “The Matrix,” “Total Recall” and “Wall-E.”

Still, “Oblivion” has a good story and tells it well. It’s slick and self-contained — there will be no “Oblivion 2” — and it has the feel of a really good episode of “The Twilight Zone.” One with an abnormally high special-effects budget.

The movie is set in the year 2077 on the desolate remains of the Earth. It is decades after aliens destroyed the moon, then attacked our planet. We fought them off, but the nuclear destruction left the planet unlivable.

The remains of humanity rode a giant spaceship to Saturn’s largest moon, leaving behind a skeleton crew of technicians. These lonely souls care for the killer drones that protect giant ocean-sucking rigs (which provide our fusion power) from the scattered remnants of the alien forces.

Cruise stars as Jack Harper, the friendly neighborhood drone repairman, nearing the end of his five-year shift. Post-Armageddon isn’t so bad to him — he gets to zoom around the planet in a cool ship, he shares a pool-equipped love nest with his lone co-worker, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), and he’s found a tiny slice of nature on the ground.

Jack also, however, has some strange dreams, despite the company-administered memory wipe. He’s not sure that leaving Earth behind is the best thing.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”), “Oblivion” uses some familiar plot devices, but offers a nice balance of action (don’t mess with a drone) with some emotion and human turmoil.

Cruise handles his role effortlessly, with solid performances given by Riseborough — who doesn’t want to stay on the planet a minute longer than necessary — and Olga Kurylenko (“Quantum of Solace”), who plays a crash survivor.

Melissa Leo appears on video screen only as the mission’s commanding officer, while Morgan Freeman contributes a relatively small but important part.

“Oblivion” isn’t a classic itself, but it’s engrossing and entertaining despite some plot holes. In a post-apocalyptic future, that’s plenty.

Rental Recommendation: Some prefer “Minority Report,” but I think “Vanilla Sky” was Tom Cruise’s best sci-fi movie. It’s definitely not “War of the Worlds.” Grade: A-.

Email Steve Ouellette:



Grade: B+

Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough

Rated: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language and some sensuality/nudity)

Running time: 126 minutes