2 hours, 10 minutes
There are several points in Tom Cruise’s new action/thriller “Jack Reacher,” where the actor sighs wearily and stares off in frustration. I had to ask myself, is this the character of Jack Reacher expressing his frustration at how ineptly the local cops are at handling the big case, or is it Tom Cruise himself, wondering why he signed on to this low-rent early-nineties-era Steven Seagal-style shoot ‘em up? That’s not to say “Jack Reacher” is necessarily a bad movie. It’s fine for what it is, but casting Tom Cruise in this is akin to having Steven Spielberg direct a local furniture store commercial.
The movie actually begins with a rough, emotional, hard-hitting scene that belies the light-weight nature of the remainder of the picture. On a bright, sunny morning, we see a sniper setting up in an upper floor of an empty parking garage overlooking a riverfront, where, on the other side, passersby are pleasantly going about their business. As the shooter begins to take a bead on the oblivious people below, you find yourself hoping against hope that this is some kind of a mob hit or some other targeted single killing. And then the shooting begins and you hide your eyes as the assassin coldly murders four women and one man, to all appearances, at random.
With all this heart-rending violence in the news lately, it’s kind of a gut-wrenching scene. Gut-wrenching in context, of course. In style and execution, I feel like I’d seen the same scene on “Law and Order” at least twice. After the murders, we are treated to a fairly quick montage of the police solving the crime. It seems the evidence is irrefutable, and by the end of the opening credits, we’ve got the killer in custody and he’s about to sign a confession.
Except for one problem. They’ve got the wrong guy. (No spoiler here — this is revealed within five minutes of taking your seat.) And instead of signing a confession, the accused writes three mysterious words, “Get Jack Reacher.” Jack Reacher? Jack Reacher? Who’s Reacher? Does anyone know a Jack Reacher?
Well, let’s just pull up his file ... turns out Jack Reacher is an ex-military genius investigator with a photographic memory and a low-tolerance for evil-doers. He’s a drifter who’s dropped off the grid and wanders around solving mysteries like John Carradine in “Kung-Fu.” And suddenly, he’s on the case.
The rest of the movie plays out with incredible predictability and, while I wasn’t particularly impressed with the direction or the writing, the actors do an admirable job of trying to rise above the level of a midnight movie on STARZ. I can’t say they all entirely succeed, but one, Jai Courtney as the sniper, rises slightly above the pack. His slightly better than average performance in this slightly better than average movie gives me hope for his role in the next “Die Hard” flick, coming out next month.
Of course, Tom Cruise is far and away the best actor in the movie. Yes, I realize Robert Duvall has a small role in the film, but he’s really only there to play Robert Duvall as crusty, affable mentor, which is to say just like almost every other role Duvall has played in the last ten years. Cruise is the lead, and he’s good, but he might as well be sleepwalking for all the role requires of him. I don’t understand why he agreed to do this movie. The guy’s just come off a huge success with the last “Mission Impossible” movie. “Rock of Ages” didn’t necessarily light the world on fire, but everyone agreed that Cruise was great in it. He’s got two big-budget science fiction films in development, not to mention another “Mission” in the works.
I don’t know, maybe I’m making too big a thing about it, but it just seems crazy for a guy who’s so ferocious about the roles he takes on and so meticulous with his career, to take on a part that literally any mid-level action star could have done. You could have put Billy Zane or Thomas Jane in this role with very little difference. They wouldn’t have been as good as Cruise, but the movie would have suffered not a whit. You could have switched Jai Courtney and Tom Cruise’s parts and the movie might have been more interesting.
I can’t say there’s really much wrong with “Jack Reacher.” The appearance of “Grizzly Man” director Werner Herzog in the role of the evil mastermind is odd and completely anti-climatic, but other than that, the movie is pretty solid and by-the-numbers. But it’s definitely a B-movie and Tom Cruise’s presence was more distracting than it was elevating. I’ve seen examples of a good actor or a star elevating an entire production. Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall transformed “Lonesome Dove” from a silly television soap-opera to the defining western of a generation.
But in this case, the rest of “Reacher” doesn’t rise to meet Cruise where he is. It just feels off, somehow. I realize this is a strange kind of criticism, but it’s what I thought about for the entire time I was in the theater. Sometimes, I guess, a casting coup isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“Jack Reacher” is rated PG-13 for action violence, a few nasty beat-downs, and language.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.