By Tim Posada, 12/27/2012
Say what you will about Tom Cruise’s personal antics, but he’s usually on-screen gold. Not so much with “Jack Reacher”, a bloated murder mystery riddled with predictable dialogue and narrative gaps. The trailers promise a vigilante story about a man beyond the law who is out for blood. Lies. This is just a private investigator story with its own flare –– and it’s not a very original one, especially for any “NCIS” lovers out there.
After five people die in a horrific public shooting, all the evidence points to former Army sharpshooter Barr (Joseph Sikora). But rather than sign a confession, Barr asks for Jack Reacher (Cruise), a former military police officer currently living off the grid. For some reason (I wonder if we’ll ever find out why), Jack resurfaces and decides to look into the case at the bequest of Barr’s attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), daughter of opposing council, Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins), who never loses a death-row case. As Jack “reaches” for the truth, he quickly learns that this rabbit hole is far deeper than originally thought … and from here the clichés layer on.
Based on Lee Child’s novel, “One Shot” (which would’ve been a much better title) from the “Jack Reacher” series, quite a few critics and fans of the books declare sacrilege for casting Cruise in a role originally meant for a much taller, more intrusive figure who doesn’t just “reach” far for the truth, but apparently high for items atop fridges. In all honesty, this critique seems petty compared to the film’s many, many other breakdowns in cinematic common sense. The film might take liberties with the source material, but it takes more liberties with any audience’s enjoyment of the action genre as a whole.
This could have been a thoroughly entertaining flick. Instead, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie — who hasn’t been able to recapture the magic in more than 15 years since he wrote “The Usual Suspects” — stumbles through a rigid screenplay, constructing overbearing dialogue (I assume that’s supposed to make Jack look like a master detective) that desolates any sense of subtlety. While Jack conducts his investigation, the audience is quickly made aware of who the real killers are and what they’re up to. What’s the fun in that? For the rest of the film, we watch characters catch up with something we already know.
In many ways, “Jack Reacher” feels like the first installment in a vigilante series, à la “Batman”. Unfortunately, such films require more interesting heroes and villains (and the occasional costume doesn’t hurt) than those presented here. To this end, meet the Zec (Werner Herzog), the evil mastermind with a creepy story about his time in prison … yawn. Whenever he speaks, predictable “I’m-tougher-than-you-because-I-have-a-past” monologues follow. The men sitting to my left laughing during these scenes sum it all up.
And then there’s Cruise. At least he’s less rigid than in “Knight and Day”, but he puts in half the effort of Ethan Hunt in his many impossible missions. And why is it that when the protagonist finally puts all the pieces together, he does so while pacing in front of a skyscraper’s window, looking on a city naive to his gleaming intellect and the evil plan that lurks in the shadows? Boring (say that aloud and really draw out the “o”). But while this screenplay is built for the man’s enormous ego (and it doesn’t help that he’s a producer for it as well), its failings reach far beyond one performance.
“Jack Reacher” combines two films. In the first half, there’s suspense and the occasional fun and rather witty moments worth the screen time. But in the second half, it’s an unintentional comedy that takes itself far too seriously, especially considering how little substance and intrigue occurs … much like “The Tourist” … oh wait, McQuarrie contributed to that drab endeavor as well. Sigh.