Film review: Retread Hero ‘Jack Reacher’ Shoots Blanks

JACK REACHER 1I so enjoy action films that find new ways to stretch the genre. And that’s why Tom Cruise as a supremely self-confident hero who plays by his own rules is so refreshing (yes, I’m being facetious).

What to say about his latest feature Jack Reacher? Well, it’s certainly this era’s answer to Dirty Harry (and The Man With No Name, too, plus sprinklings of Jack Ryan and the recently rebooted Jason Bourne). And typically the Motion Picture Association of America has given this assault-and-murder fest a PG-13 rating while the sexual content (along with “crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material,” egad!) in a film like This is 40 gets an R. Thanks, MPAA, for once again reinforcing the warped American notion that young people should be more worried about sexuality than violence despite the lip service you’re now paying to the problem.

JACK REACHER 2Of course, in the wake of the Newtown tragedy a scene where a sniper’s scope takes in a little girl is pretty hard to swallow, but it should be anyway. And while some fans of the Lee Child-created character (17 Jack Reacher novels so far with number 18 out in 2013) apparently find it difficult to accept Cruise because of his height and build, the problem with this adaptation of Child’s “One Shot” novel is the story, not the casting.

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie – who so far seems better with scripts (his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Usual Suspects) than direction (this film and The Way of the Gun) – this tale is set in Pittsburgh in the aftermath of a public shooting that has left five people dead. The suspected killer (Joseph Sikora) lies in a coma after writing “Get Jack Reacher” on the confession the local DA (Richard Jenkins) wants him to sign.

JACK REACHER 3The circumstantial evidence compiled by hard-boiled Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) would seem to provide an open-and-shut case. But the accused man’s lawyer Helen Rodin (who just happens to be the DA’s daughter, which is a ridiculous set-up to begin with since it would be highly unlikely a judge would be fine with allowing relatives to act as opposing counsel in a case like this) doesn’t want to see her client executed, and – surprise, surprise – she’s got personal issues with daddy. You can already feel you’ve read or seen this kind of thing before.

Reacher ends up working for Rodin (Rosamund Pike), and of course he discovers there’s more to this case than initially believed. And Rodin in typical misogynistic storytelling fashion is apparently smitten with our sometimes-you-have-to-go-above-the-written-law protagonist because, well, he’s a real he-man, right? Ugh.

JACK REACHER 4After a series of beat-downs and another homicide we get the standard-since-Bullitt car chase and good-versus-evil showdown. Okay, some familiar elements aren’t a sin, but why should we get excited about it?

Actors like Pike and Jenkins are wasted with such material; there are however some good bits from crusty old Robert Duvall and German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who seem to be the only performers who get how silly this whole story is. For the rest, especially Cruise, stilted characterizations are the order of the day.

JACK REACHER 5It’s impossible to view Jack Reacher and keep Newtown completely out of mind at present, but even if that horrific event hadn’t just happened this film’s tired tribute to vigilante justice would fall flat. I hope this doesn’t launch a franchise of films about this character; one hugely predictable flick is enough.

Jack Reacher (www.jackreachermovie.com) opens today (Dec. 21) in wide release nationally. For locations and show times in the greater Nashville area check the websites of Regal Cinemas (www.regmovies.com), Carmike Cinemas (www.carmike.com) and Malco Theatres (www.malco.com). Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material, 130 min. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, based on the novel “One Shot” by Lee Child. Starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall, Alexia Fast, Jai Courtney and Joseph Sikora.

 

*Photos by Karen Ballard courtesy Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).