Aw man. I might’ve cut “The Tomorrow War” a little more slack had screenwriter Zach Dean not conjured up the crappiest, sappiest most over-extended finale in living sci-fi movie memory.
And before you make a crack about my memory not being what it once was, let me just note I haven’t forgotten the long list of earlier films Dean (“24 Hours to Live,” “Deadfall”) “borrowed” from for this cut-and-paste job. There’s “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Terminator,” “Starship Troopers” and “World War Z” for starters. I dare say every review has a list like that in it, the cribbing is that algorithmically obvious.
But it’s got Chris Pratt and Sam Richardson (“Werewolves Within”), cracking wise and fighting aliens. Granted, the tentacled “white spikes” are the most derivative space monsters imaginable. The reason they’re kept from view for much of the first act is that they’re hilariously familiar looking.
“Somebody get a harpoon on that tentacle!”
The plot — commandos from 30 years in the future travel back through a manmade wormhole to beg the present day for help. Aliens are treating humanity like an all-you-can-eat buffet. The human race is doomed to a quick and gastronomical extinction if we don’t pitch in and save our kids’ generation.
But when the supply of soldiers runs out, a draft of ordinary citizens worldwide is enforced. Training? Equipping? Not really and “barely.” This is end-game lost-cause desperation, like the Confederacy in 1865 or Japan and Germany in 1945, throwing cannon fodder into the gaping wound, hoping to forestall the inevitable.
That’s how Dan Forester (Pratt), an Iraq War vet now a frustrated high school science teacher, is conscripted. This is what you get for whining “I am meant to do something special in my life,” as if teaching kids isn’t.
His wife (Betty Gilpin) barely has time to suggest “We should run,” his little girl barely gets off a “Goodbye,” and his cranky, estranged ex-military Dad (J.K. Simmons) is no help.
Dan’s tested for “the jump,” and there he is, with science professor Charlie (Richardson), a three-tour vet Darius (Edwin Hodge) and comic actress Mary Lynn Rajskub not quite playing herself, but almost.
What’s striking about these early scenes is all the odd ways facing this terror are being handled. There’s a global lockdown on pictures or video of what they’ll be fighting or the depopulated landscape they’ll be thrown into. Protecting “morale?” Trying to keep people from giving up? We’ll soon find out.
There’s literally no training. And the “jump” resembles nothing so much as a kamikaze mission — technology that hasn’t quite been perfected, orders given by frantic bunglers in charge, a botched “landing” in embattled and empty Miami Beach (What, it’s not under water yet?) that leaves Dan in charge.
Forget that Darius, the only one with LOTS of experience fighting these aliens, is standing right there next to him. Maybe his “attitude” is what’s holding him back.
“Nothing we do here matters.”
The spikes the white spikes grow are hurled, like darts, at the hapless humans. Their teeth aren’t just in their mouths.
And the humans fighting them — just half a million left, in a script detail that causes more harm than good (not enough to support the infrastructure they possess) — are scrambling through their shellshock, trying to find a weapon that will wipe out this plague.
Because arming everybody with assault rifles isn’t really doing the trick.
There’s a scattering of humor, funny lines — bug-eyed Charlie freaking out as he shoots and is chased by these monsters he’s seeing for the first time — “Oh s–t, oh s–t, oh s–t, oh s–t,” repeated maybe 70 times.
Our heroes have to contend with uncomfortable truths about their future — limited or not — and that of their offspring.
Pratt plays another watered-down version of his “Guardian of the Galaxy” guise, Richardson gets most of the funny lines and “Handmaid’s Tale” veteran Yvonne Strahovski, as a future commander, does a decent job of suggesting the stakes and the need for cold, rational in-combat decision making.
It’s never that great, but rarely that bad either. Until that godawful finale. I dare say screenwriter Dean and “Robot Chicken” veteran director Chris McKay will be passing the blame back and forth on that to infinity and beyond.
MPA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and some suggestive references.
Cast: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, Sam Richardson, Betty Gilpin, J.K. Simmons, Jasmine Matthews, Edwin Hodge and Mary Lynn Rajskub
Credits: Directed by Chris McKay, script by Zach Dean. A Paramount/Amazon Studios release on Amazon Prime.
Running time: 2:19