'Do you ever have déjà vu?" a shaken Bill Murray asks the bubbly innkeeper in that 1990s classic of been-here-done-that -ness, Groundhog Day.
"I don't think so," responds the cheery Mrs. Lancaster, "but I could check with the kitchen."
In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise, like Murray before him, finds himself stuck in a head-spinning time loop. But it's not breakfast banter or Punxsutawney Phil's shadow that Cruise has to worry about when he wakes up each morning to live the same day all over again. Rather, as a gruff four-star general in Doug Liman's propulsive sci-fi war movie puts it, "All humanity is at stake."
Only Cruise's William Cage, a smug military media-relations flack who runs recruitment campaigns but has never faced combat (he's squeamish at the sight of blood), can save us. France has fallen. So has Germany. The United Defense Force is about to launch a D-Day-like invasion on the Normandy coast, and Cage, despite his cowardly entreaties (or maybe because of them), is in the first wave.
The enemy is a relentless legion of whooshy tentacled things from outer space called Mimics. They burrow. They pounce. They destroy.
But because of a fluky, or fateful, battlefield encounter, Cage finds himself experiencing that strange "Haven't I been here before?" sensation. Yes, he dies in the trenches, but then he wakes up again back at the Heathrow staging area, gets barked at by a Southern-fried sergeant (Bill Paxton), is introduced to his fellow J-squad troopers, and gets air-dropped back onto the fields of France. Rewind. Press play. Rewind.
After a while, Cage figures out how to sidestep the Mimics' lethal tendrils and the fiery debris - and then he meets Rita Vrataski (a very buff, very serious Emily Blunt). She's a fabled warrior known back home as the Angel of Verdun, a symbol of hope and might, a 21st-century Joan of Arc. Suited-up in their high-powered, high-tech ExoSuits, Cage and Rita set out to "exterminate the Mimic source." The mission takes them across war-torn France, into Germany, then back to a Paris landmark for a little bit of apocalyptic art appreciation.
Liman, who directed The Bourne Identity (with a hero, played by Matt Damon, who had the opposite problem of Cage's - he couldn't remember anything), has marshaled an awesome army of visual-effects artists and designers. The panoramas of airships hovering low over the Cliffs of Dover, of crazily catastrophic battle scenes crosshatched with artillery fire, are exhilarating tableaus of doom and destruction. But the director and his screenwriters (Edge of Tomorrow is an adaptation of a Japanese novel, All You Need Is Kill) punctuate the action with humor, too: the accidentally prescient Cage trying to get something romantic going with Rita, who will have none of it; the screwups back at base camp trying to figure out how Cage can, well, read their minds.
At its best, Edge of Tomorrow plays like a tripwire time-travel thriller. As it progresses, though, the built-in repetition can, and does, grow tedious. The whole thing begins to feel like a giant-screen videogame - with the gamer getting a little further, a little deeper, with each new push of the Start button.
But then Cruise and Blunt do something they haven't done up to that point, and the excitement mounts - or re-mounts. Like that famous Yogi - Berra - once put it, "It's déjà vu all over again."
Edge of Tomorrow *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Doug Liman. With Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 1 hour, 53 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (intense action, violence, profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: area theaters.