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'The Tomorrow War': Chris Pratt goes back to the future

Chris Pratt, Edwin Hodge and Sam Richardson star

Chris Pratt, Edwin Hodge and Sam Richardson star in Amazon Studios' "The Tomorrow War." Credit: Amazon Studios/Frank Masi

MOVIE "The Tomorrow War"

WHERE Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

WHAT IT'S ABOUT With a budget of $200 million, the sci-fi epic "The Tomorrow War" arrives on Amazon Prime as one of the first summer blockbusters to completely bypass theaters.

Chris Pratt does his familiar action movie shtick, albeit with a touch less humor than in the "Jurassic World" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" franchises, as Dan Forester, a high school biology teacher and military veteran.

He's married to Emmy (Betty Gilpin), the father of Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), feeling a bit adrift professionally and ... oh yeah, conscripted in a universal draft for soldiers needed to teleport from the near future to 2051 in order to fight an alien invasion that has nearly eradicated humanity.

Co-stars in "The Tomorrow War," which Paramount Pictures originally planned to release in theaters before the pandemic changed things, also include Sam Richardson, Edwin Hodge, Yvonne Strahovski and J.K. Simmons. The director is Chris McKay ("The Lego Batman Movie") and the screenwriter is Zach Dean

MY SAY "The Tomorrow War" begins in 2022 with the Forester family hosting a Christmas party. A World Cup soccer match airs on TV and suddenly soldiers from the future materialize on the field. They tell the world about what has happened decades later and changed society forever in the process.

This is a premise rife for potent philosophical inquiry. There's not a resoundingly clear moral guidepost for what to do when faced with this particular quandary.

While the nations of the world settle on global conscription, in which citizens from the present that meet certain criteria are sent into the future to be essentially sacrificed to this losing battle, there are many other conceivable routes toward heading off a future calamity.

The question of how one balances a peaceful present day with this looming doomsday reality has particular resonance in a world that has undergone the once-in-a-century trauma of pandemic, in which scenes that once seemed the exclusive terrain of movies like "The Tomorrow War" have suddenly played out in real life.

But while the movie's earliest moments inspire hope that there might be some interest in being thinking person's sci-fi, the reality proves different. Once Pratt's character and his fellow conscriptees have been launched to 2051, "The Tomorrow War" settles into the predictable rhythms of any number of movies about a bunch of people with guns fighting off aliens, zombies, or other stock supernatural baddies.

There's simply far too much potential here for it to be squandered on scenes of, say, Pratt's Squad going on a rescue mission in a post-apocalyptic Miami Beach, facing off against the aliens — called White Spikes — as their tentacled, beastly selves lunge out from darkened spaces. Action movies cliches abound: at one point, for example, a character is propelled into the air after outrunning an explosion.

There are some entertaining moments nevertheless, and the movie might have played better on the big screen, but it's impossible to shake the feeling that you've seen it all before.

BOTTOM LINE: "The Tomorrow War" is passable entertainment that could have been a lot more.

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