The Tomorrow War review: Chris Pratt fights for the future in enjoyably absurd action flick
The Tomorrow War sets its time-jump coordinates somewhere between 2050 and 2022, though hanging in the panicked gun-smoke air is the distinct whiff of many big-screen dystopias (dystopii?) gone before: a vapor trail of Interstellar, a fragrant chunk of Starship Troopers, a fun-size War of the Worlds. If the movie (on Amazon Prime Video this Friday) works better as a lightly batty comedy than a tentpole thriller, that's probably down to logic and budget, in that it doesn't seem to have a lot of either. But it does, in its cheap-and-cheerful way, have fun.
Erstwhile Star-Lord Chris Pratt has been demoted here to the body of an ordinary earthling, a woolly-cardiganed suburban dad and high school science teacher named Dan Forester. His wife (GLOW's underused Betty Gilpin) and daughter (Ryan Kiera) both support his bigger dreams beyond the classroom, but a startling announcement in the midst of a televised World Cup match puts the brakes on pretty much everything. An alien invasion is coming, and the concerned citizen-warriors of 2050 have traveled back in time to deliver both a dire warning and a recruitment ad: The only way to prevent total annihilation 28 years hence is to start fighting back like, yesterday.
To do that they'll need to feed all the circa-2022 bodies they can into the rudimentary beam-me-up machine that is their only portal to the future apocalypse. And so Dan becomes one of millions drafted into compulsory service — and discovers a group of suspiciously graying fellow recruits, among them 24's Mary Lynn Rajskub and Veep's Sam Richardson. Their soft-belled midlife demographic doesn't make much sense for soldiering, but it does track for the paradoxes of time travel; the risk of ripping some kind of hole in the universe by running into yourself is considerably less if you'll almost certainly be dead 30 years hence.
With a few scant hours of training — essentially, "here's a big gun, and good luck" — the amateur troops are deployed for their seven-day stint in an end-times hellscape ruled by skittering homicidal insects whose sole purpose seems to be survival, and whose main food group for fueling up is people. Dan, naturally, becomes de facto leader thanks to his long-ago days in Special Forces, and is soon leading a rescue mission directed by a future-world commander (Yvonne Strahovski, of The Handmaid's Tale) who may have — as you might have guessed by the first two minutes of the trailer, or any passing familiarity with the laws of story synergy — a more personal connection to his past.
The aliens themselves are revealed so early and often that they hardly register on any real terror Richter scale: big ugly bugs with rows of razorblade teeth, pincered claws, and the herky-jerky movements of a CG starter kit. The action, as frantic and insistent as it is, lives largely in extended bursts of video-game chaos and deathless lines of dialogue like "Someone get a harpoon on that tentacle!" Which is a lot more fun, frankly, than the script's nonsense mythology and its earnest stump speeches on family and loyalty and One Man to Save Them All.
Director Chris McKay (Robot Chicken, The Lego Batman Movie) has forged his career in absurdist comedy, and the movie is best when it lets its weirdo flag fly, whether that's J.K. Simmons as Dan's hippie dropout dad riffing on the sexual temptations of Stevie Nicks or Richardson's geology professor–turned–hapless recruit, doing the best he can to make sense of a world where he's forced to handle semiautomatic weapons instead of old rocks and research grants.
Eventually the storyline dissolves into soft-focus sentiment and a final, snowy set piece whose execution is so patently ludicrous a 1970s Bond villain might file for intellectual property rights (though the climate-change message is sneakily on point). Until then it's enough, almost, just to watch Pratt & Co. race and banter and blast their way through Tomorrow's futures past. Grade: B-
(Video courtesy of Amazon)