Movie review: Jack Reacher
Tom Cruise returns as the peripatetic vigilante in a straightforward, if preposterous, adventure whose simplicity reveals how unsuitable the actor is for the role
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Running time: 118 minutes
By Jay Stone
An American professor named Henry Peyre (or maybe it was architect Frank Lloyd Wright; the quote has been variously attributed) once called television “chewing gum for the eyes.” Whoever said it, it perfectly captures a kind of entertainment that engages us in a shallow, distracted, forgettable, and irresistible way.
The Jack Reacher novels of Lee Child — about a 6-foot-five, 250-pound former military investigator who roams the highways of America, righting wrongs and dislocating jaws — are good examples. You read a Reacher book not to plumb the existential truths of human nature, but for the part where some tough guy underestimates Reacher and has his limbs broken for his trouble. “Here it comes,” you think to yourself, settling in for the visceral thrill of the comeuppance.
Reacher is now a movie character embodied by Tom Cruise, who is patently not 6-foot-five, although he would be if he stood on his money. Cruise is a bankable, if aging, action star who still throws himself into his roles with a daredevil velocity comprised of professionalism, fitness, deep focus, great running form — Cruise’s scampers through various film roles have become an Internet meme — and a dash of Scientology, for seasoning.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back — a title that mitigates against the kind of return visits that made Titanic such a big hit — is the second of Cruise’s appearances as the character. The first film, in 2012, which featured Bavarian movie director Werner Herzog as the eccentric villain, was chewing gum for the eyes. Never Go Back is more chewing gum stuck to the bottom of the seat.
It’s not for lack of trying, but Never Go Back is essentially less of the same. The plot has Reacher — still hitchhiking from town to town armed with nothing but a toothbrush and a native inconquerability — visiting Turner (Cobie Smulders from How I Met Your Mother), an army major who has taken over his old job at the military police headquarters. Reacher gets there just in time to see her arrested on a false charge of espionage, so he springs he from prison and together they go off to solve the mystery.
This turns out to be a fairly straightforward and preposterous puzzle that involves chasing a bunch of private military contractors — handy modern bad guys — from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans, interrupted by several scenes of Cruise (and occasionally Smuthers, showing a nice way with a karate kick) whaling the tar out of various thugs. It’s complicated by a subplot involving Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a sullen teenager who might be Reacher’s long-lost daughter. This is apparently meant to humanize Reacher, but these kinds of movies go much better when there aren’t too many damsels in distress. We don’t want Samantha in peril; we want Reacher standing in the middle of a circle of tough guys and telling them they’ve just made a big mistake.
Samantha is also used for comic relief, so that when, say, Reacher — who not only outfights but also outthinks his opponents— confronts a couple of guys who are following him by saying “I don’t like being followed,” the next scene shows Samantha confronting Reacher with the same words. It’s cute, but not as good as the part where Reacher punches his pursuer right through his car window and relieves him of his gun.
Cruise gives it his all, but he might be getting a little long in the tooth for this kind of thing — shots of him with no shirt on artfully cover his stomach — and he needs the complications of the Mission: Impossible films to distract us. The stripped-down persona of Jack Reacher is beginning to expose the actor’s shortcomings, if you’ll pardon the expression; indeed, I spend much of the film wondering how it would play if someone more size-appropriate, someone like Dwayne Johnson maybe, was in the part. Frankly, despite his obvious hard work in keeping fit, Cruise just doesn’t seem formidable enough.
It’s a fatal flaw in a film in which he is in almost every scene. Director Edward Zwick, who previously worked with Cruise on The Last Samurai, showcases the actor in a way that makes you realize he is making a Tom Cruise film. What’s needed is a Jack Reacher film.
THE EX-PRESS, October 27, 2016
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