Tom Cruise may never stop running on screen, but his appeal is certainly running out. Everything that was even moderately interesting about 2012’s Jack Reacher is notably absent here, leaving us with a mindless schlockfest that never transcends its genre trappings. The first installment in the franchise suffered criticism for Cruise’s lack of resemblance to the eponymous character from Lee Child’s novels, but most acknowledged it was at least efficiently paced and benefited greatly from Werner Herzog’s bizarre presence as the ultimate villain of the piece. Things are much less interesting the second time around, with really no redeeming value beyond whatever obvious appeal the franchise might hold for action genre completists.
Cruise is clearly getting a bit long in the tooth, and it’s worth noting he’s only a couple of years younger than Liam Neeson was when he successfully reinvigorated his career by playing a relatively implausible action lead in 2008’s Taken. Like those films, Reacher saddles a gruff ass-kicker with a petulant teen girl to protect him from the trouble he attracts, but the emotional stakes are too underdeveloped to engender any real sense of threat or conflict. Unfortunately, it looks increasingly likely that the Reacher films will follow a similar declination, with a precipitous drop in the level of both quality and inventiveness following an initial burst of creativity. While Neeson’s gravitas was able to carry the Taken films further than should’ve reasonably been expected, Cruise’s charisma can only do so much with an insipid script and uninspired direction.
A large part of the problem with both scripting and direction comes from the chronic cronyism that has plagued much of Cruise’s late-period career. Reuniting with director Edward Zwick for the first time since The Last Samurai (2003), Cruise perpetuates his pattern of partnering with directors he trusts to make him look good (or at least not bad). While this paid dividends with frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie in Cruise’s first Reacher foray, Zwick’s direction is excessively formulaic. His few stylistic flourishes fall painfully flat — particularly the perplexingly awkward idea of depicting Reacher’s deductive reasoning through drop-frame black-and-white sequences as though taking a wrongheaded cue from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films. The script, penned by Zwick with the help of The Last Samurai scribe Marshall Herskovitz and Denzel Washington’s go-to action screenwriter Richard Wenk, boasts every tired narrative cliche of the genre along with dialogue more on the nose than Cruise’s punches.
The end result of all this directorial ineptitude and script-tinkering is a film with more plot holes than Reacher’s bullet-ridden torso. If you absolutely have to see a derivative action film this week, Jack Reacher is your man. Just don’t expect the character motivations or deus ex machina plot contrivances to make a lot of sense or arrive at a gratifying conclusion. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something as offbeat and moderately enjoyable as the first Reacher film, you’d be better served to heed the film’s subtitle and never go back. Rated PG-13 for violence, language and thematic elements.
Now Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher, Epic of Hendersonville.