JACK REACHER Movie Review
Written and directed by frequent Bryan Singer collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, Jack Reacher begins with a chilling sniper attack on innocent pedestrians in downtown Pittsburgh, then spends the rest of its two hours trying to justify the gravity of its opening scene as a undistinguished, somewhat shabby excuse for a mystery-thriller. Tom Cruise plays the titular role, a former military policeman whose distaste for the rat race of civilian life has pushed him off the grid. He suddenly appears when the loner ex-vet accused of gunning down five people – a perp that Reacher busted in Iraq but was let go due to extenuating circumstances – requests him by name. The suspect impolitely falls into a coma before Reacher can arrive, however, meaning he must convince a skeptical defense attorney (a bland Rosamund Pike) that the man has been framed while dodging her overbearing district attorney father (Richard Jenkins) and the cop heading the state investigation (David Oyelowo).
Based on the Lee Child novel One Shot, McQuarrie’s script spares no superlative about its hero’s genius-level deductive powers, his extraordinary fighting skills, and his penchant for extralegal means of administering justice (but only to those, as the movie and its advertising make clear, who “deserve it”). Cruise plays the role with a hyper-professional relish, rampaging through the film like a robotic Boy Scout on the fritz as he busts up meth dealers and the hired goons of a shadowy building concern. Though it’s tempting to label Jack Reacher – with its disenchanted, technically homeless veteran who’s been programmed too well for duties outside the boundaries of normal day-to-day living – the First Blood of the War on Terror, the film is unfortunately more of a mechanistic genre exercise than a nuanced character study. It hardly even bothers to give its half-developed characters coherent motivations as it chugs along from point A to point B – the plight of a random damsel in distress somehow gets Reacher more pissed off than, you know, a conspiracy to commit mass murder and terrorize dozens of innocent people.
Despite its pretense of serious, Fincher-esque crime drama, Jack Reacher is just bursting with unrealized camp potential. McQuarrie builds a straightforward thriller plot while constantly teasing the audience with tantalizingly baroque flourishes, like casting celebrated German auteur Werner Herzog as a one-eyed criminal mastermind. Octogenarian screen legend Robert Duvall gets roped into this circus as well, playing a key role in a climactic firefight so preposterous, it wouldn’t feel out of place in the third act of Battleship.
Mostly, however, the movie revels in clueless denial of its inherent ridiculousness. It’s lost on the filmmakers when Pike punctures Reacher‘s legalistic pomposity like a balloon as she excitedly describes the nefarious ends of their unseen corporate adversary as “Bridges nobody needs, highways nobody uses!” Without even remotely interesting stakes, the narrative clumsily falls back on clichéd women-in-peril scenarios to generate cheap drama while inexplicably padding its third act with Second Amendment talking points (again, this is a movie that begins with a gunman firing indiscriminately at a crowd of morning commuters). Squandering an intriguing premise – not to mention gads of unintentional comedy – with a pedestrian style and hammy performances, it’s more akin to an episode of a television procedural than a franchise vehicle for one of the world’s biggest movie stars. To borrow its own turn of phrase, Jack Reacher is the type of movie nobody remembers.