In Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise plays a character — the title one, in fact — who comes from a series of novels in which said character is supposed to be a 6-foot-5 and about 250 pounds of bulky manliness. This calls for great audience imagination. Of course, the film makes no mention of this discrepancy, so I don’t guess it matters much, despite the curious casting. Admittedly, the books’ author Lee Child has endorsed Cruise’s “rightness” for the role, but let’s be honest: It’s in his best interest for the film to do well. I was just mostly glad that I made it through the movie while the score was still Mayans 0, Earth 1 as concerned the end of the world. Watching a Tom Cruise picture while the world ended would have been just too embarrassing to live down. (Of course if you’re reading this, we may assume that the score remains unchanged — and, somewhere in the cosmos, the ancient Mayans are having a good laugh over a practical joke that took a long time to pay off.)
The fact is that Jack Reacher — while hardly anything to get excited about — isn’t a bad little thriller. That it hardly justifies a 130-minute running time seems less of an affront if you’ve sat through 134 minutes of This Is 40 — and, anyway, 130 minutes is pretty svelte this year. Oh, Jack Reacher is not something that is likely to hang around in your brain — apart perhaps from Werner Herzog’s underused villainy — but it’s at the very least OK. The best thing about the film is that it has a sense of humor and is structured as a mystery — albeit one with something of a shortage of suspects and some pretty cheesy misdirection. For that matter, Cruise isn’t bad in the role when he’s detecting and showing off how smart he is — and he has a winning way in the film’s occasional outbursts of snappy repartee (unfortunately, this is mostly in the earlier part of the picture). As for playing the cynical badass who can take on gangs of bad guys single-handedly and beat them to a pulp — well, that proves more of a stretch. (That his opponents either tend to wait their turn to tackle him, or are comically inept helps, I suppose.)
The central idea of an alleged sniper scrawling, “Get Jack Reacher,” on a piece of paper (before being conveniently beaten into a coma in jail) isn’t bad. And Reacher just showing up out of nowhere works nicely. In fact, all the early scenes work well — even after we later realize that we’ve been “had” — but the longer the movie goes on, the more it tends to wander into the realm of undistinguished action flick. The way-too-long chase scene is a key example, even if the payoff is amusing in a preposterous way. It’s not that the scene is badly done — though one insert of a determined detective clenching his fist made me chuckle in its overkill. In the end, the overabundance of stock stuff brings the plot to a grinding halt for the sake of fast driving and vehicular mayhem.
The presence of filmmaker Werner Herzog as the mob kingpin is a plus, but it’s such a bizarre addition — to no very clear point — that it never quite rises beyond the level of stunt casting. And this is a sort of stunt casting that will almost certainly be lost on the action-movie fan base, making the whole package just seem that much stranger. That said, I wouldn’t in the least mind seeing the invariably fascinating Herzog in more über bad guy roles. On the other hand, there’s the business of the film bringing in Robert Duvall — fairly late in the proceedings — as an ex-Marine rifle-range owner. That is perhaps even more distracting. He’s good enough in his typical Duvall crustiness, but he feels like the guest star he is.
Overall, Jack Reacher is certainly watchable and sometimes a bit more. The plot is much more interesting than the kind of thing we generally get from action pictures. It’s not good enough to actually recommend — especially with a lot of better movies out just now — but neither is it something to be cautioned against. Its popularity is a little doubtful at this time since it remains to be seen if audiences are in the mood for a movie about a sniper right now, but that’s another consideration altogether. Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material.
Playing at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14. Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher Cinema 7