Thursday, October 20, 2016

JACK REACHER Is Back In A Standard Issue Action Thriller Sequel

Opening today at a multiplex near you:


(Dir. Edward Zwick, 2016)

The first movie in the budding Jack Reacher franchise, 2012’s JACK REACHER, was a standard issue action thriller, and this is its standard issue action thriller sequel.

Tom Cruise, who also co-produced, returns as the army trained indestructible badass title character, in this adaptation of the eighteenth entry in Lee Child’s Reacher series (the first film was based on the ninth novel – don’t ask me why they are doing them out of order) with writer/director Edward Zwick replacing Christopher McQuarrie at the helm.

After an opening scene that, apart from a few crucial beats, has been heavily spoiled in the film’s trailer and TV spots, involving Reacher turning the table on a couple of corrupt cops in a diner, we learn that our stoic, rarely smiling hero is still doing his drifter thing off the grid. 

The guy has stricken up a bit of a long-distance relationship over the phone with a Major Susan Turner (Colbie Smulders, still best known as Robin from How I Met Your Mother despite her more recent work in Marvel movies), who has taken over his post in the military police force.

Despite that they’ve not met in person, Reacher and Turner set a dinner date for the next time he’s in the D.C. area, but when he gets there he finds out that she’s been arrested for espionage, after two of her sergeants were killed in Afghanistan under suspicious circumstances. Our hero senses she’s been framed and seeks out her defense attorney (Tony Beard), who tells him that one of the reasons that Turner has expressly forbidden Reacher from getting involved, is that he might be a deadbeat dad.

So the mystery of whether or not Danika Yarosh is Reacher’s 15-year old daughter Samantha is intertwined with the mystery of who’s behind the setup that comes to involved Reacher himself getting framed for the murder of Turner’s lawyer. So Reacher breaks Turner out of military jail, they find Samantha, and the threesome are on the run, mostly from Patrick Heusinger as an darkly dressed assassin only credited as “The Hunter.”

Reacher and The Hunter tangle in brutally violent fight scenes, there’s a deafening amount of gunfire in the shoot ‘em ups, and, of course, as in any Cruise action flick, there’s a lot of on foot chases (check out this supercut of “Every Tom Cruise Run Ever” which was recently added to YouTube – it goes on for nearly 19 minutes).

I’m unsure of what the title, NEVER GO BACK, means. Maybe it’s supposed to be taken in a Thomas Wolfe “you can’t go home again” way, like how Reacher returns to his old army base and has to keep telling everyone who salutes him as a major, that he’s an “ex-major.” But that doesn’t really seem to fit as it seemed like he was only visiting the place to get a date. Whatever the case, I bet it’s something that’s conveyed better in the book.

As with just about every sequel released this year, it’s a case of diminishing returns. The first one was no classic, but it was edgier and had Werner Herzog as the villain – Heusinger’s Hunter puts forth some effective evilness, but sure can’t top that.

Many times I felt like I was watching a TV show, which makes sense as director/co-writer Zwick has a lot of small screen experience, with how the narrative slickly moving from set piece to set piece with perfect places for commercial breaks. Seems like the fair to middling movie franchise would make for a much better Showtime series.

The plot points surrounding the conspiracy and cover-up involving the selling of US arms on the black market, really didn’t hold my interest. But the Reacher bonding with his possible daughter angle had a little more going for it because there’s some unforced cuteness (largely on account of Yarosh), but not much.

Smulders, who with her role in the Marvel movies as Commander Maria Hill, puts in a strong performance as a strong woman who can take care of herself here, but I wish that the film gave her more chances to upstage Cruise. Smulders’ Turner stands up to Reacher, but still lags behind him in the New Orleans-set climax which involves a chase across rooftops in the French Quarter with fireworks overhead – this plays out as predictably clich├ęd as it sounds.

He’s getting slightly more grizzled looking now, but at 54 Cruise can still pull off being an A-list action hero – especially if guys like Liam Neeson can still do it at a decade older. Hell, Harrison Ford is still making BLADE RUNNER and INDIANA JONES movies * and he’s 74!

Point is, Cruise still has a lengthy career ahead of being an indestructible badass. But, here’s hoping that he’ll choose worthier, more inspired projects than this in the years to come.

* Okay, Fords last Indiana Jones movie was in 2008, but he’s got another scheduled for 2019, and BLADE RUNNER 2049 comes out in a year. So there.

More later...

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