Part “The Terminator” turned upside down, part “Starship Troopers,” “The Tomorrow War” is the latest Paramount sci-fi/action movie redirected from theaters to streaming by the pandemic, and while it’s slightly better than “Infinite,” it’s still not very good. Watching Chris Pratt fight to save the future has a certain appeal, but in the here and now, he can’t even save the movie.
Pratt plays the ordinary guy thrust into futuristic heroism, in a film that puts his franchise-tested charisma as part of “Jurassic World” and Marvel’s Chris contingent to the test. A veteran working as a science teacher, Pratt’s Dan Forester is as shocked as the rest of the world when soldiers from 2051 arrive, announcing that Earth’s population is being eradicated by an alien invasion in their time.
The monsters are fast, relentless and ugly, and in order to save the 500,000 people left on the planet, humanity’s future needs warriors from the present in order to fight alongside them. The plan leads to the implementation of a worldwide draft, which shakes the social order and sweeps up Dan among Earth’s understandably anxious defenders.
Dan is introduced as a father and husband with dreams of doing more, telling his young daughter – in one of several lines that’s a little too on the nose – “I am meant to do something special with my life.” But it’s going to take what amounts to a Hail Mary pass by the scientist he encounters in the future, played by “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” Yvonne Strahovski, to find the means of eradicating the alien threat before it’s too late.
Directed by Chris McKay (“The Lego Batman Movie”) from a script by Zach Dean, it’s hard to call “Tomorrow War” an original concept when it draws extensively from so many previous movies, with the martial qualities of “Aliens” prominent among them.
The film does possess a bit of heart, since Dan is motivated to save the future for his kid, while eventually needing to seek help from his estranged father, played by J.K. Simmons.
The supporting cast perhaps most prominently features “Veep’s” Sam Richardson as another anxious recruit and source of comic relief, but their contributions are limited. The action, by contrast, is plentiful, impressive in its scale and occasionally pretty gruesome but marred by its familiarity, remixing familiar ingredients associated with this kind of monster mash.
Without giving anything away, a significant narrative wrinkle does come in the last 30 minutes or so, and it’s fairly ridiculous even by the standards of time-travel fare, which usually need to be graded on a curve.
Amazon reportedly paid a vast sum for the rights to stream “Tomorrow War,” as it did for Paramount’s “Coming 2 America.” In this case, it’s a testament to both the film’s perceived theatrical prospects (not great) and the increased competition for attention that a sci-fi movie with Pratt is apt to attract.
The film’ promotion rivals that of a theatrical blockbuster, and strictly as ammunition for the streaming wars, “Tomorrow War” makes considerable sense. If only the same could be said about the movie, which strands its star in a pretty uninspired time and place.
“The Tomorrow War” premieres July 2 on Amazon. It’s rated PG-13.