The latest Tom Cruise film OBLIVION in which the superstar once again saves the world is a muted, muddled sci-fi fandango that finds Tom tangling with his identity. There are those who think the now eerily youthful looking Cruise seems more plastic than ever. No matter how many times I’ve see him on a talk show– save one wacky moment on Oprah, and that freak out exchange with Matt Lauer–there’s rarely been a time when Cruise as Cruise seems genuinely spontaneous. But he’s always been a vibrant presence as an actor on the big screen. Not here.

OBLIVION capitalizes on that plasticity– but perhaps here it makes sense? Without giving away the plot– and that wouldn’t be easy– this is one complicated series of events. Based on an unpublished graphic novel by Joseph Kosinski, who also co-wrote, produced and directed, OBLIVION suffers from claustrophobia. It’s maker was too close to see how this clumsy, derivative contrivance could possibly be understood by anyone besides him.

OBLIVION is set in the year 2077– Cruise is Jack Harper or  “Tech 49” living in an outpost above NYC, mopping up after the planet was destroyed by aliens called “scavs” who blew up the moon in an invasion 60 years earlier. Earthlings won the war but lost the planet. Now everyone’s gone to live on one of the moons of Saturn called Titan and Harper is left to protect the giant machines harvesting earth’s natural resources, his mission overseen by a woman named “Sally” (Melissa Leo) who’s running the show from “the Tet”–an escape pod that will soon take Jack and his girlfriend/partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) to live on Titan as soon as they finish their mission.

They live in a really cool, clean pad and have great underwater sex while swimming in a pool hovering above the planet. They are an “effective team” as they are called on to attest many times in the course of the movie. Both of them have had their memories “wiped” but Jack is troubled by dreams of an even more beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko) and we know this spells trouble– and is probably a portal to truths not yet known. Then things get complicated.

And I will now stop explaining– because what happens next involves confusingly circuitous storytelling, bands of survivors, and action sequences that have all the resonance and rhythm of video games. More characters climb on board including Morgan Freeman– but barely make impact. The usually hot-wired Cruise barely registers. What little momentum the film initially gathers, is steadily dragged down by a plot that thickens until it turns to mud.

And by the way, that generic title has no specific connection to the plot– but everything to do with where this film is headed.