Friday, January 17, 2014
Opening today at a big ass multiplex near you:
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT
(Dir. Kenneth Branaugh, 2014)
I just got through the painful process of accepting Chris Pine as Captain Kirk in the relaunched STAR TREK series, now I have to accept him as Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan in another reboot of a Paramount franchise too?
Apparently so as Pine is the fifth actor to fill the shoes of the intrepid CIA agent since the techno thriller series based on Clancy's novels started in 1992 with Alec Baldwin in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Harrison Ford took over the role for two entries - PATRIOT GAMES and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER in 1992 and 1994, then after a break of eight years, Ben Affleck made an unsuccessful stab at the Ryan role in THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002).
Now, after another long break we've got JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, helmed by Kenneth Branaugh, who also plays the cold-eyed Russian villain. This being his directorial followup to THOR, Brannaugh has now officially re-branded himself as a big studio action movie maker.
David Koepp and Adam Cozad's screenplay, which isn't based on any particular Clancy novel, rewinds to the beginning of Ryan's career - we first see him as a student at the London School of Economics watching the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers on television. After a stint in the Marines where he almost loses a leg in a helicopter accident, Pine's Ryan gets recruited by Kevin Costner as a CIA operative to be a deep-cover financial analyst working on Wall Street. This is something he keeps secret from his fiancé (Keira Knightley), TRUE LIES-style, into the present day.
So far, so formulaic.
Learning of a possible terrorist attack that would lead to an American financial crash, Pine travels to scenic Moscow to thwart Branaugh's evil industrialist plotting to bring on what he calls “the second Great Depression.”
I feel like J.K. Simmons as a befuddled CIA man in the Coen brothers' BURN AFTER READING when I ask “the Russians?” I mean, I know that the roots of Ryan are based in Cold War espionage, but here it seems that the Soviet backdrop is aping recent similarly set spy capers like MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL or, worse, the fifth DIE HARD movie which came out this same time last year.
The lack of genuine suspense is palpable in this routine mess in which the fight and chase scenes are horribly edited, the dialogue stiff, and the pacing scattered through the distractingly shiny surfaces.
And the film has no business being in IMAX as it wasn't shot by IMAX cameras and it has no big cinematic money shots that warrant such presentation. Even in what's supposed to be the movie's big climax, involving a van carrying a nuclear device going off the side of a bridge into the Hudson river and exploding, they don't show it long enough to make any impact.
There's also a mind-numbing Russian restaurant-set centerpiece sequence in which Knightly (who should go back to Victorian-era costume dramas and not attempt an American accent again) tries to distract Branaugh over dinner while her hubby is breaking into Branaugh's office that drags the whole narrative down. Hard to believe that screenwriters Koepp and Cozad thought that this was inspired material at all.
In a confident yet somewhat wooden performance, Pine is fine as the reluctant title character, but beyond his egghead calculations there's not much of a persona on display.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (such a generic title) is a shallow reboot that doesn't know how to elevate its hero into anything approaching the heights of Bond or Bourne, and make itself out to be anything better than standard issue spy fodder.