Tom Cruise is no Jack Reacher, despite what the posters may say. Cruise lacks the brawn, height (in the books, the character clocked in at 6’5″), and most importantly the charisma of Lee Child’s protagonist. The actor does his best to launch a new franchise with Jack Reacher, but the overlong end product is ultimately a unfortunate misfire.
That’s not to say that the action thriller is a total dud. Director Christopher McQuarrie deserves a great deal of credit for keeping the action moving, particularly in the film’s harrowing close-quarters fight scenes. While Jack Reacher‘s dialogue drags and sags, the action sequences are exciting and innovative. Reacher’s brawl with hired thugs in a cramped washroom is a standout, simultaneously brutal, exhilarating and humorous. And the film’s second-act car chase is a heady, jarring thrill, much better-executed than most recent comparable scenes. McQuarrie also excels at bringing out the darkness in Jack Reacher‘s criminal underworld, infusing many scenes with a unshakeable, uneasy sense of dread and decay.
Jack Reacher‘s biggest flaw is its inability to juggle a lot of moving parts at once. The plot, based on Child’s novel One Shot, follows Reacher’s investigation of the murders of five seemingly random civilians by an expert sniper. It’s a decidedly dark story for an action thriller to tell, and McQuarrie’s stomach-churning depiction of the murders, the film’s opening, is an immediate and highly potent sucker punch. However, Cruise attempts to sell Reacher as a brooding antihero with an acerbic wit, and when faced with such abject carnage, all he can do sullenly stare into the distance and fire off a few inconsequential one-liners.
The supporting cast is equally dissonant. Rosamund Pike shows cleavage but no acting ability as defense lawyer Helen Rodin, who regresses from successful businesswoman to damsel in distress with little reason other than to give Reacher something to do. Meanwhile, Werner Herzog slithers around as a Russian mobster called the Zec, a really nasty piece of work, and David Oyelowo works on making his temple veins stand out as a detective at odds with Reacher. Only Robert Duvall, a reliable action staple, and Alexia Fast, a fresh new talent, stand out in their few scenes.
It couldn’t be any clearer that this is Cruise’s vehicle, but the actor surprisingly doesn’t make as much of an impression as he should. He’s a less likable Ethan Hunt with no sense of humor, entirely bereft of the charm the audience is meant to believe draws characters to him.
Unfortunately for Paramount, little apart from McQuarrie’s direction really works, and Jack Reacher devolves into a series of clichés surrounded by such stale dialogue as “I’m a drifter with nothing to lose,” meant to sound threatening but actually just painful. By the time the two-hour mark rolls around, Jack Reacher has outstayed its welcome, and there’s still half an hour to go.
Cruise does his best work when he’s allowed to infuse his fight scenes with a playful, devil-may-care attitude, but Jack Reacher‘s script fails him, and the audience, by taking itself entirely too seriously. It saps the fun out of it all, leaving Cruise to run through the motions without the energy he needs to keep the audience invested. I would love to see what a creative director like McQuarrie could do with a more energetic, intelligent and interesting script, but Jack Reacher is as by-the-numbers as they come, too lazy to think for itself or ask its audience to do the same. C+
Image Courtesy: The Boston Globe.