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'Oblivion' steals, successfully, from sci-fi greats.

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Iriana's Pizza, the eatery one story beneath the Arkansas Times offices, serves a pie called the "sweep the floor," a higgledy-piggledy version of a supreme. That name came to mind while trying to articulate the melange of science fiction classics that appear to have been sausaged into "Oblivion." To assemble this popcorn flick, director/writer Joseph Kosinski appears to have swept up hide and hair from every touchstone in the genre. (Proposed drinking game: Spot an echo of another movie in "Oblivion," take a shot.) A partial list must include "Wall-E," "Independence Day," "Solaris," "The Matrix," "Star Wars," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Blade Runner," "Moon," "The Day After Tomorrow" — the floor, it has been swept. The result is an "Oblivion" that sticks to your ribs.

If you can't shake the sense you've been here before, well, tell it to Jack Harper (Tom Cruise). He's a technician on a deserted Earth, living in a mod glass apartment above the clouds, whizzing around in a nifty ship that resembles a helicopter crossed with a dragonfly crossed with an iPod. It's 2077, long after aliens attacked Earth and made a mess of the place. Most of humanity has fled to Titan, the moon of Saturn where everyone's holing up now that we poisoned the planet during the war. (The aliens' masterstroke was to blow up our moon, sending earthquakes and ocean floods to do the dirty work down here.) "We won," Jack likes to say, but now the only humans are huddled in a massive space station called the Tet, dangling in low orbit to monitor likewise massive power plants that run on slurped-up ocean water. Those are under constant guerilla siege by the straggling holdouts from the alien war. Jack's job is to repair the aerial drones that guard the power stations and which carry an aspect of ED-209 from "RoboCop" (take a shot). He's half-heartedly looking forward to ditching for Titan.

The milieu Kosinski builds around Jack's errands is one of an omega man (shot) backed by the formidable force of the drones and by his partner, in multiple senses, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). But Jack is haunted by dreams that feel eerily real, as if they pre-date his mandatory memory-wipe. He imagines a strange brunette (Olga Kurylenko) meeting him in New York. Then, as he's out on parole one day, she becomes manifest in an unexpected way. Later on, Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (a.k.a. the Kingslayer, to "Game of Thrones" fans) help fill out the cast.

Even those overall less impressed by "Oblivion" will fall for its aesthetics. The sweeping cinematography (by Claudio Miranda, winner of the Oscar for his work on "Life of Pi") befits an epic — vistas of a planet wasted, seen from purifying heights. The overindulgent synth-score by M83 recalls cheeseball adventure movies from the '80s, becoming an instant guilty pleasure.

Even the leading man has his charms, despite his inherent Tom Cruisivity. He has a certain aptitude for parts such as Jack, a duty-bound action dude who chafes under authority. Jack's a bluer-collar version of Ethan Hunt or Jerry Maguire or the guy from "Minority Report" (take a shot?). Occasionally he has to deploy a puckish boy-smile to get him out of scrapes, even if he did turn 50 on the set of "Oblivion." Mostly, Cruise winds him up and races across the screen. The actor doesn't disappear into his characters so much as they disappear into him. And so what if you've seen him like this before?

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Film Details

  • Oblivion

    • Rated PG-13 - Action/Adventure, SciFi/Fantasy
Oblivion
Rated PG-13 · 125 min. · 2013
Official Site: www.oblivionmovie.com
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer: Joseph Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt
Producer: Joseph Kosinski, Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Barry Levine and Duncan Henderson
Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Melissa Leo

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