It is never good news when a phalanx of armed, balaclava-wearing dudes falls from the sky in the middle of a World Cup soccer game.
“We are you 30 years in the future,” their leader announces to the stunned crowd. “You are our last hope.” Heeding the call is a high school biology teacher named Dan Forester (Chris Pratt). Dan has a doting wife (Betty Gilpin), an adoring young daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) and — because action heroes rarely embark on wholesale slaughter without some unhealed psychological hurt — the requisite estranged father (J.K. Simmons).
Dan also believes that his life has a special purpose, and so does “The Tomorrow War,” Chris McKay’s time-travel spectacle in which clichés rain as fast and as furiously as bullets. In 2051, an alien civilization is in the process of gobbling up humanity, requiring a worldwide draft of present-day citizens who will “jump” into the future to join the war effort. This process — which resembles the Rapture, except the destination is hell instead of heaven — dumps the terrified conscripts on a post-apocalyptic Miami beach. From there, Dan and a handful of confreres (including an amusing Sam Richardson and Mary Lynn Rajskub) battle a welter of special effects to reach an undersea laboratory where a military scientist (Yvonne Strahovski) is developing an alien-fighting toxin.
Sucking ideas from across the sci-fi spectrum — “Alien,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Starship Troopers,” “Jumper,” I could go on — Zach Dean’s screenplay grows more ludicrous by the minute. People are launched into the mayhem without basic training (Richardson’s character can’t even load a gun). And when saving the world requires the assistance of a volcanologist, the sole option is a 12-year-old boy. (Dean does deserve credit, though, for a plot that both hints at global warming and insists scientists will be our salvation.)
As for the extraterrestrials, we’re almost an hour in before we see one: Bleached, tentacled and maximally toothy, they’re so exhaustingly aggressive it’s a relief to learn that, like the Creator, they’re only active for six days a week. That’s about as long as this 140-minute assault feels, with its crude dialogue (“We are food, and they are hungry”), overexcited score and characters so formulaic they might as well be cereal-box figurines. “The Tomorrow War” is betting its flash will blind us to its vacuity. And why not? It worked for “Avatar.”
The Tomorrow War
Rated PG-13 for death, destruction and alien abuse. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes. Watch on Amazon.