Hey, kids! It’s time to play “Spot the Influences!”
We’re teeing up “Oblivion” for you today, and, boy, can you say “target-rich environment”? Let’s dive in.
We’ve got Tom Cruise playing a dude from 2077, intoning in voice-over about having had his brain scrubbed squeaky clean of memories by some unnamed governmental entity. So we know, whether or not he knows, that he may not be who he thinks he is. Which is a maintenance man. And that sounds like?
Oh! I know! I know! “Total Recall!”
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Bing! Fifty points for Contestant No.1.
And what Mr. Fixit fixes are deadly flying sphere thingies …
Ooh! Ooh! Like in “Phantasm.” Right?
Debatable. But we’ll be generous and award Contestant No. 2 a grand total of 3½ points.
Anyway, the computerized killer orbs see the world through glowing red lenses that look just like … Contestant No. 3?
HAL from “2001.”
Right you are. Fifty points for the lady.
Now, a humans-vs.-aliens nuclear war has turned the world of 2077 into a desert wasteland that looks a lot like Tatooine in “Star Wars,” and hero Tom, who answers to “Jack” in the picture, uses a way-cool white future jet to dogfight with the orbs in a manner reminiscent of … Contestant 1?
Let’s see. Tom Cruise. A fighter pilot. Zipping across a danger zone. “Top Gun.” That was easy.
You think so, eh? Well, how about when he flies into a supertight, one-false-twitch-of-the-controls-and-you’re-dead canyon with TIE-figh … oops, I mean, killer globes hot on his tail? No. 2?
“Star Wars.” Attack on the Death Star.
Correct-o-rama, though I practically gave you that one. Not your fault. Fifty points.
Bonus question: As they’re zipping and zapping through the ruins of New York City, the dogfighters deftly dodge the severed torch arm of a certain large copper statue.
“Planet of the Apes.”
Twenty-five points. Now, Contestant 3, the cloaked figures who stalk Jack through the wrecked world have glowing orange eyes like …
Jawa people. “Star Wars.” Next question.
And so it goes with “Oblivion.” There’s a humongous mother ship that you’d swear flew in from “Independence Day.” And the naked humans floating unconscious in liquid-filled life pods? Say, didn’t we see those in “The Matrix”?
Isn’t this fun?
Yes. Until it isn’t.
Until you get to the point where you start wondering whether director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”) and screenwriters Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn have any original ideas of their own. And then you realize they don’t.
What we’re left with is Cruise being his usual studly self (Kosinski gives him two topless shower scenes; dig those cut abs and biceps), humorlessly trying to figure out the secret of his character’s true identity that’s hidden in his scrubbed-out brain. Oh, and trying to save what’s left of the ruined world, which looks pretty fabulous thanks to the excellent set design and special-effects work.
They should have just called the picture “Copycat” and left it at that.
Soren Andersen: firstname.lastname@example.org