'He dies like 200 times': Tom Cruise's comedy routine in Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise

Have you ever dreamed about what it might be like to relive the same day over and over again in an endless search for the perfect 24 hour period of existence?

Of course you haven't, for that is the plot of much-loved Bill Murray/Harold Ramis comedy classic Groundhog Day, and each and every possible hilarious scenario has already been played out for you via one of the sharpest and most intuitive scripts of all time.

Edge of Tomorrow, 20 minutes of which was screened for bloggers and film journalists at an event in London earlier this week, is like Groundhog Day with stringy aliens and Tom Cruise. Admittedly, there are a few other minuscule differences between Doug Liman's upcoming sci-fi piece and its forebear: Cruise is using his unusual predicament in order to sleep with Emily Blunt at the finale of his endlessly cyclical personal purgatory (rather than Andie MacDowell) and the movie is set around a future invasion of Earth by spaghetti-like extra terrestrials rather than a local TV reporter's curmudgeonly trip to the countryside for a quaint annual event. But you get the idea.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you are going to steal, it is usually a good idea to steal from the best. And in any case, Liman's plagiarism is second hand: his film is based on a Japanese novel titled All You Need Is Kill which first ventured the time-loop proposition.

Edge of Tomorrow also has other cool stuff going for it. Cult hero Bill Paxton plays a luxuriously moustached special-forces general who repeatedly bawls out Cruise's unfortunate new recruit. And for those who cannot stand the world's most famous Scientologist, there is the chance to watch him get killed over and over again by hideous monsters or massive chunks of falling metal.

"If you love Tom Cruise, you see him giving a genius performance, and if you hate Tom Cruise he dies like 200 times in the movie," confirmed Liman in a post-footage Q&A. The director, whose mercurial career has taken in cult indie Swingers, Brangelina blastfest Mr and Mrs Smith and the first Bourne movie, 2002's The Bourne Identity, was keen to praise his lead for taking on a role far from the orthodox action mould.

"Here, he is a total coward," he laughed. "The amount of times he squeals in this movie – he's an amazing squealer! Other movie stars – in my experience – would have been more hesitant about being that vulnerable."

The premise of Edge of Tomorrow is that Cruise (here named Lt Col William "Bill" Cage, but playing himself as usual) slowly builds himself into the most spectacularly badass special-forces grunt, capable of taking on the alien threat almost singlehandedly, through experiencing the same battle over and over again. Along the way he meets Blunt's heroic veteran Rita Vrataski, a poster girl for Earth's defenders and a woman who understands his predicament like no other.

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There were some extremely funny moments in the footage we saw. Dropped into a war zone on his very first day as a soldier, Cruise doesn't last long the first few times around. But as he begins to acknowledge his unique set of circumstances, the rookie finds himself saving the lives of surprised comrades and taking out seemingly unstoppable aliens with the practiced insouciance of a man who really has seen it all before. Liman appears to have found a nice balance of comedy and action, while Cruise and Blunt have decent chemistry as fellow soldiers desperate to smash through the brittle carapace of their time-limited bubble.

On the downside, Groundhog Day isn't the only movie being ruthlessly plundered here. I was picking up the unmistakable whiff of deja vu from pretty much every decent sci-fi venture to have hit the big screen in recent years, from Rian Johnson's Looper to Duncan Jones' Source Code. (Let's not even mention Starship Troopers.) Again, this isn't such a bad thing, as I really rather like those movies, and it may just be that all time-travel films throw up similar narrative traps.

"The frustrating thing is trying to deal with the logic of a film that works with time travel," admitted Liman. "People who dream that one day time travel will exist – all they have to do is work on a film that has time travel and they will realise that there is no way ever that we will travel through time. There's just too many paradoxes. It's just not going to happen."

The screenplay for Edge of Tomorrow is by The Usual Suspects' Christopher McQuarrie (plus Jez and John-Henry Butterworth). Fingers crossed the storyline hasn't been pawed apart, thrown back together and ultimately mashed into meaninglessness by too many creative architects, as happened with Cruise's plothole-ridden last sci fi outing, Oblivion.

Liman's film has the look of decent popcorn entertainment, even if it's unlikely to be on too many critics' end-of-year best-of lists. Are you up for watching this one over and over again in tribute to the film's own narrative Möbius strip? Or are you frightened this is two hours of your life you might never get back?

• This article was amended on 7 March 2014, to correct the spelling of Bill Paxton's name.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ben Child, for theguardian.com on Friday 7th March 2014 12.27 Europe/London

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image: © Sujin Kim