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In that movie, Phil (Bill Murray) also had to learn to live his day right in order to escape it. But "right" meant something more than simply cracking the cosmic video game sequence of moves. He had to learn (and apply) a moral lesson.

Edge of Tomorrow is much more liberal than was Groundhog Day in its use of religious language; Master Sargent Farrell (Bill Paxton) ironically prophesies that it is on the field of battle that Cage will be baptized and "born again." But this turns out to be all clever punning and nothing more, irony for irony's sake. You should drop any hope that the nearness of death will lead to insights about the meaning and value of life.

The invitations to laugh at death end up backfiring, though. By removing even the possibility of death for most of the movie, the plot strips any decision of meaningful consequences. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has read any postmodern literature or even, say, the book of Ecclesiastes. The result is not a mindset that clings to life as something precious, but one that cavalierly dismisses it as something absurd and meaningless.

Tellingly, Rita asks "What does it matter what happens to me?" And Cage, and the film, can think of no answer.

(This conundrum is compounded by the incomprehensible epilogue, about which I can only say, without spoilers, that it appears to change the rules that supposedly applied to every scene before it.)

Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in 'Edge of Tomorrow'
David James / Warner Bros.

Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in 'Edge of Tomorrow'

There are some slivers of entertainment here and there. Blunt is good, an unexpectedly plausible action heroine. Bill Paxton gives a marvelous little performance, made all the more delicious because his character is exactly the opposite of his career-launching role as Private Hudson in Aliens. Cruise, while clearly more comfortable in the film's back half (once Cage turns heroic), is still our best action movie actor, seemingly ageless, and capable of playing essentially the same character in film after film, using his undeniable charm and charisma to carry us past some really poor writing.

If it is hard to put aside the film's artistic and thematic deficiencies and simply enjoy it as a summer "things go boom" movie, perhaps that is because one hopes (although it is an increasingly faint hope) in something more from Doug Liman. Twelve years ago, Liman helmed The Bourne Identity, one of the best action thrillers of our generation. Like Edge of Tomorrow, it paired a seemingly indestructible male hero with an all-too-vulnerable female accomplice. Unlike Liman's subsequent genre films (Edge of Tomorrow, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Jumper) it had a bottomless melancholy, which sprung from its Bourne's growing ambivalence towards violence and horror at his own ability to dispense it without consequence.

When an actor or director makes a movie that good, I usually say I'll get in line for his or her next three projects, no questions asked. Edge of Tomorrow didn't persuade me to give up on Liman, but it did reset my own anticipation meter for his next film back to zero. Bourne is starting to look an awful lot like the outlier in his filmography.

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Edge of Tomorrow