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Like peanut butter and chocolate, Tom Cruise and action go together nearly better than anything else at the movies (save for popcorn and butter). The man has committed himself to the genre with more dedication than perhaps any other actor in the history of the business, releasing hit after hit, absolutely throwing himself into every part he takes, and then some. He’s made a career with entertaining over accolades as his mantra and I’ll just go ahead and say it: he’s damn good at it. With Jack Reacher: Never Go back, his latest action thriller and sequel to the 2012 original, he once again puts that Cruise magic to work, but for the first time in a long time, it isn’t enough.
From the start, the film doesn’t waste time with subtly or even logic. We quickly get back into the Jack Reacher groove as it establishes, even after fours years, that the character is still his old troublesome self, kicking butt and taking names. Though giving the movie some credit, it picks up the kicking butt part after it’s already happened and we get just the consequences, mostly a pile of beat up bad guys and a disgraced sheriff. It’s a nice touch.
From there though, the story kicks in where Reacher heads to Washington D.C. to meet Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), his “insider” military contact he has been helping, and possible love interest. When he gets there, he learns she’s been arrested for espionage, but even more startling, he also discovers he might have a 15-year-old daughter. When he begins to ask questions about Turner, a man he requests information from is murdered and it’s not long after that when Reacher is accused. He ends up in the same prison as Turner and then the two break out to try and to clear their names. Meanwhile, the military and a cold-blooded assassin (Patrick Heusinger) give chase.
Directed by Eward Zwick, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a shockingly mediocre action film, with a boilerplate script and a by-the-numbers attention to detail that feels like a demo film for a Screenwriting 101 course. With scintillating dialog such as “Time to stop running and start hunting” the very apex of the conversational interchange, there’s not much in terms of challenge for the viewer. This is strictly A, B, C as the story pushes forward with almost nothing to keep interest beyond the very impressive presence of Cruise.
That’s really where the movie begins and ends, with Cruise once again delivering with effortless ability, though by now, this sort of role is like sleepwalking for the veteran star. He has some very good moments here, allowing his age and famously hardened on-screen persona to really give some aspects of the Reacher character great depth. Yet even he can’t make up for the ridiculousness of the plot, which is a continuous string of contrivances and coincidences that push the suspension of disbelief to atmospheric levels. For example, Reacher tosses a smashed cell phone out the window of a moving car and the very next scene is the bad guy hunting them finding it. When Reacher needs to get an airplane ticket but doesn’t want to get noticed, no worries, there’s a guy who looks just like Reacher ten feet away that just happens to walk right into Reacher’s pickpockety fingers. Being chased in a hotel and need to hide in the street, hey look, there’s a parade. It goes on and on, almost as if Zwick is trying to make the most run-of-the-mill film he can.
And Zwick is a good director, and also no stranger to action or even Tom Cruise, having directed him in the far superior The Last Samurai. But I have to wonder what he’s trying to do here, failing to make a funny family on the run action film nor a compelling and intelligent thriller. That family element is probably the larger issue as the entire daughter subplot (played by Danika Yarosh) feels unnecessary, but worse, obvious. Of course she’s a rebel. Of course, she’s a troublemaker. Of course she’s highly observant and clever. With not one day in her life of even knowing that Reacher existed, she is naturally, exactly like him. Right.
Smulders does her level best but like Cruise is left spouting generic lines and doing a lot of running and fighting, which she handles mostly well. Maybe it’s time to give her an action movie of her own, and to be sure, keeping up with Cruise is surely no easy feat, though she doesn’t come close to Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow. Again though, this is no fault of Smulders who, with a better script and better direction, might have really shined.
Certainly, Jack Reacher is not a franchise about intrigue and mystery. It’s about busting bones and big action, but should that mean it must be without some smarts? This feels like a packaged film made to try and attract the largest international audience as possible in the broadest of terms. Maybe that was the goal from start. But no matter. While there’s a few good moments, ultimately, this is one the filmmakers should have minded the title and with the Jack Reacher name, never gone back.
Director: Edward Zwick
Writers: Lee Child (Book), Richard Wenk (screenplay)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
Genre: Thriller, Action