** (out of four)
“Pixar's 'Wall-E' was pretty good. Imagine how great it would be if it were live action, starred Tom Cruise and unfolded kind of like Duncan Jones ('Moon,' 'Source Code') directing Independence Day!”
From that hypothetical, misguided theory comes “Oblivion,” in which Cruise plays a lone operative named Jack. Much like Wall-E, Jack completes maintenance tasks on a desolate future version of Earth, where he marvels at rare evidence of plant life and sometimes fixates on long-dated cultural material. Good news: Led Zeppelin's “Ramble On” still kicks ass in 2077.
No, Jack doesn't look like he has binoculars for eyes. He looks like Tom Cruise.
Though his bosses wiped his memory, Jack occasionally has visions of the lovely Julia (Olga Kurylenko of “To the Wonder” and “Quantum of Solace”). Could this mystery woman popping up in his mind be more than some stranger glimpsed on the top of the Empire State Building? Can Jack really be the only one tasked with fixing drones and battling enemy “Scavs” on an Earth destroyed by a shattered moon, alien invasion and nuclear war? Why isn't he in a better mood aboard his ship, where he works with a fetching colleague (Andrea Riseborough of last week's “Disconnect” and “Welcome to the Punch”)? Sheesh, they have a private pool, and skinny dipping is very much permitted despite the lack of lifeguard on duty.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski (the underrated “Tron: Legacy”) from a script based on his unpublished graphic novel, “Oblivion” recalls “Futurama” and several big-screen sci-fi touchstones that would would spoil the movie to name. The movie easily and sometimes beautifully fills an IMAX screen. Spaceships and drones (my favorite villain is Drone #166) whoosh; an enormous landscape of engrossing nothingness spreads out to dwarf Cruise, who would be right in claiming that even the Rock would look puny here.
Yet the actors have no chemistry, and the story doesn't reveal anything fresh about humanity. Kosinski also should have worn sleeves if he was going to try stuffing tricks in there—I rarely predict twists, and I called three of 'em. However, I didn't expect a line as unintentionally silly as Riseborough's character asking Jack, “Our job is not to remember, remember?” In space, no one can hear you chuckle.
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