Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) served two tours in Iraq as a Special Forces sergeant. Now he teaches high school biology. He’s a loving husband and parent, though he’s also long estranged from his own father (J.K. Simmons). In “The Tomorrow War,” which starts streaming on Amazon Prime July 2, Dan’s military past, scientific present, and family relations past, present, and future all matter a lot.
Future? “The Tomorrow War” begins and ends in the present, but most of it takes place 30 years from now, when space aliens are doing what space aliens tend to do, invading Earth. It’s a war humanity is losing, so emissaries from the future are sent to seek military assistance from the present.
The time travel takes place courtesy of a wormhole or something. The details are never really discussed, which is probably just as well. The director, Chris McKay (the two “Lego Batman” movies) would seem to agree with that noted aficionado of action movies Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.”
Worldwide conscription is imposed, and Dan gets drafted. He’s placed in an R Unit, “R” standing for research. Also in it are Charlie, an extremely chatty former Georgia Tech professor (Sam Richardson), a woman named Norah (the ever-welcome Mary Lynn Rajskub, from “24”), and a very grim fellow named Dorian (Edwin Hodge). You’d be grim, too, if this was your third deployment to the future.
Dan and company “jump,” as the time traveling is called, to Miami Beach. The screen goes shivery and liquid to render the jumping. It looks kind of lame. A bigger problem, something the filmmakers could not have anticipated, is the destination, Miami Beach. Because of the recent Florida condo-tower collapse, even viewers long used to seeing familiar cityscapes in ruins might find this one disconcerting.
The invaders are called White Spikes. The name comes from the dart-like projectiles they fire. White Spikes look like velociraptors, only skinnier; and their mouths, well, let’s just say their oral surgeons would appear to be big “Alien” fans. They put those mouths to gruesome use. “We are food, and they are hungry,” explains Dan’s commanding officer (Yvonne Strahovski). Later on she yells, “Someone get a harpoon on that tentacle!” “The Tomorrow War” is that kind of movie.
The second-best thing here is an inspired time-travel twist that involves the officer. It’s a twist that has its own internal logic. Logic is otherwise lacking in “The Tomorrow War.” No sensible person watches something like this for its plausibility (uh, time travel? OK, sure, why not). But when a movie gets as insensible as “The Tomorrow War” does, the degree of implausibility becomes a problem. It’s hard to skate, let alone skate fast, when the ice keeps disappearing. Nor does poor pacing help things. About two-thirds of the way in, there’s a big (big) climactic sequence that turns out to be . . . not the climax.
The best thing in the movie is Pratt. Firmly established in not one but two franchises — “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the “Jurassic Park” reboot — he’s come a long way from “Parks and Recreation.” He alternates here between charming wise guy and sensitive family man: Peter Quill domesticated. That’s not an easy straddle, but he pulls it off in hunky-everyman Pratt fashion. Watching him do it, you may wonder why he’s not at work on the movie he was born to play the lead in. In “The Tomorrow War” his wife’s named Emmy. In that other movie, she’d be named Giselle. Pratt would have to lose the beard, but otherwise “The Tom Brady Story” has its star.
THE TOMORROW WAR
Directed by Chris McKay. Written by Zach Dean. Starring Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons. Streaming on Amazon Prime. 138 minutes. PG-13 (sci-fi violence and action, language)
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.