“Jack Reacher,” Tom Cruise’s new hope for a movie franchise, is an old fashioned movie. It’s the kind of movie that Steven Seagal might have starred in circa 1992. It’s a bare-bones action movie and predictable but Van Dammit, taken for what it is, it’s also a bit of fun.
The movie starts out with a brutal and tense sniper attack. Five random people—or are they random?—are gunned down by a disturbed military trained shooter named Barr (Joseph Sikora). He is quickly arrested, but despite almost insurmountable evidence against him assembled by a hot-shot cop (David Oyelowo) and district attorney (Richard Jenkins), he doesn’t confess. Instead, refusing to speak, he writes a cryptic message, “Get Jack Reacher.” Turns out Reacher (Cruise) is a ghost, a war veteran who has been off the grid for almost two tears. When Reacher sees a news story about the case on TV, however, he comes out of hiding and work’s with Barr’s lawyer (Rosamund Pike) to get to the truth.
There’s a light, snappy tone to “Jack Reacher” which is unexpected from a movie containing this level of violence. The banter between Jack and Helen almost sounds ripped from the script of a screwball comedy. It’s not particularly funny, and the chemistry between the two is lacking, but the rat-a-tat rhythm is in place.
That’s just one of the surprises offered up by this adaptation of the ninth book in the popular Reacher series by British author Lee Child. The second is an unhinged extended cameo by Werner Herzog, as the cataract infected, fingerless bad guy. He’s been acting on and off since the early 1970s, and his in front of the camera work is usually as wild and wooly as his behind the camera work is brilliant. Here he outdoes himself in a memorable scene that gives new meaning to the meaning of the word frostbite.
That scene is an off kilter treat in a movie that mostly plays it straight. The unvarnished violence—punches in the face that look like they really hurt—and unadorned action scenes—director Christopher McQuarrie has not used music in the car chase and fight scenes, which gives them a real sense of immediacy—all work well. Those parts the movie gets right. Unfortunately it’s a long movie with lots of other parts between the boffo scenes.
Richard Jenkins is wasted in a generic pay cheque role and Reacher’s habit of connecting the evidentiary dots is pushes the limits of credulity, but Cruise (in Sherlock Holmes mode when he’s not swinging fists) sells it with a combination of swagger and cold-blooded charisma. Van Dame or Sly Stallone might have been more fun in the role, but Cruise, despite not being anywhere the size of Reacher from the books— 6′ 5″ tall (1.96m) with a 50-inch chest, and weighing between 210 and 250 pounds—he’s a big enough star to pull it off.
The elephant in the room is how the subject of a random mass shooting will play with audiences just one week after the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre. The sniper scenes are effectively done, and comprise some of the best work in the film, but may be upsetting to some viewers.
“Jack Reacher” is a fun but violent ride, that should keep fans of Cruise’s actionman persona happy until the next “Mission Impossible” movie comes along.