If Tom Cruise’s career ever takes him to do a TV pilot, it would be a lot like Jack Reacher. And not a classy, sophisticated pilot for AMC or HBO or Showtime or FX–no, this would be a standard basic cable procedural, or a series to follow one of the NCIS shows on CBS. It’s the most generic movie of Cruise’s long career, and very possibly the least memorable.
The movie is based on a very successful series of novels by Lee Child (the source book for this one is entitled “One Shot”), in which Jack Reacher is a roaming vigilante who comes to a town to right some wrong and see justice done, then leaves, like a thousand ersatz Men With No Name in a thousand westerns and crime dramas. (In the books, Reacher is a 6-foot-5 blond hulk, but we’re conditioned to believe that movie stars can perform just about anything they need to physically, so Cruise’s own more normal size isn’t a distraction for nonreaders.)
In Jack Reacher, the hero is summoned when a former Army sniper is arrested for a mass killing in Pittsburgh. (It’s unfair to penalize the film for the recent horrible crime roiling the nation, but watching an assortment of innocents get gunned down–one of them holding a child–is less escapist entertainment right now than it might have been a few weeks ago.) Reacher has a history with the suspect–who is in a coma before he gets to town, and with whom he has no scenes–but he realizes instantly that the man is innocent, and sets out to find the real culprit. He’s paired with defense lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike, with plenty of screen time but nothing to play until she inevitably becomes a damsel in distress), who happens to be the daughter of the DA (Richard Jenkins, utterly wasted). Reacher is so singlemindedly fixed on his goal that he doesn’t even pause for romance with the beautiful Helen, although there’s a quick flash at the start of him with an anonymous woman, so we don’t dare to harbor any doubts about his tastes. Naturally, every brilliant deduction Reacher makes is perfectly on target, and he shows up anyone who crosses his path, including local detective Emerson (David Oyelowo), as he makes his way toward the true villain, a one-eyed Russian gangster missing most of his fingers played by Werner Herzog, who was clearly financing his next couple of arcane documentaries.
Director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie runs Jack Reacher through its paces professionally enough (although it’s far too long at 130 minutes, considering its basic, predictable plot), with fine photography by Caleb Deschanel and some decent action sequences. It delivers at about the same B-movie level as a vehicle for The Rock. But there’s not a single distinctive moment in its entire running time; even when Robert Duvall turns up as an ornery old coot in the third act to liven things up, he’s in exactly the role Slim Pickens or Strother Martin would have played in the 70s version of the movie. In the hands of a Sam Peckinpah, this material could have been been disturbingly ambiguous; in the hands of Quentin Tarantino, it might have been amusingly fetishistic, but here it’s straightforwardly bland.
Tom Cruise made his reputation by working on risky, difficult projects with real filmmakers like Oliver Stone, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Cameron Crowe and Stanley Kubrick, but with projects like this, Knight and Day and the Mission: Impossible franchise, he’s playing it very safe in the middle age of his career. Jack Reacher isn’t his worst movie (Knight and Day, for one, is more painful), but it’s sad to see his adventurous spirit gone, exchanged for easy paychecks.
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