Jack Reacher (United States, 2012)

December 22, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Jack Reacher Poster

Jack Reacher has the distinction of being little more than it initially appears to be: a clumsily condensed mystery/thriller novel made into a movie that offers little more than every other clumsily condensed mystery/thriller novel made into a movie. Overlong and undercooked, the film fails to gain traction on any level. It's dramatically inert and relies on uninspired action sequences to provide "pop." Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie, adapts Lee Child's One Shot into an uneven screenplay that is talky and exposition-heavy in the first half before offering a modicum of satisfaction toward the end. Yes, even in a pedestrian movie it can be fun to see the bad guys get their comeuppance.

Watching Jack Reacher, I was reminded of Alex Cross, which suffered from many of the same problems. Things that work in books often don't translate well into movies, especially given the time constraints. At 130 minutes, Jack Reacher is too long but it feels rushed and incomplete. It's obvious that subplots were truncated or cut and character arcs were abridged. Werner Herzog's villain, The Zec, is a fascinating piece of work but he has minimal screen time.

By releasing Jack Reacher in December, Paramount Pictures wants to draw a connection to Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, the box office success released at this time a year ago. December is actually a good time to release an action thriller since it makes a change from all of the serious would-be Oscar contenders clogging up multiplex screens. What made Mission: Impossible successful was its audacity and spectacle. Neither of these elements is much in evident in Jack Reacher, despite misleading trailers that attempt to portray this as more of a kick-ass experience than it is.

Cruise, in a role that's not a great fit, is the title character, an ex-military investigator who has returned to the United States as a "ghost" who leaves no electronic trail. When a sniper takes out five innocent people, Jack's history with the man gets him pulled into the investigation; he soon becomes the lead investigator for the defense attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike). Despite an inner desire to see the man die from lethal injection, Jack begins to uncover a disconcerting series of clues that lead him to conclude that Helen's client is innocent. The killer is not only still at large but willing to strike again to cover his tracks.

Cruise isn't the only one who's miscast although, considering that he's the producer, his participation is understandable. Rosamund Pike is unconvincing as the smart, idealistic Helen. She does a lot of eyelash-batting and smiling that are antithetical to what one expects from the female "sidekick" in a movie like this. Richard Jenkins (as Helen's father, the D.A.) and David Oyelowo (as the lead police investigator) are solid actors in search of a paycheck. The only one who really seems invested in his role is respected German director Werner Herzog in one of his occasional forays in front of the cameras. His portrayal of "The Zec" is genuinely creepy. Robert Duvall shows up late in the proceedings for reasons only he can explain.

Tonal inconsistencies abound. There are times when Jack Reacher appears headed into romantic territory only to pull back and decide to make Helen and Jack's relationship professional. There's also a bizarre bathroom fight scene that verges on slapstick. The bad guys in this sequence are such utter buffoons that it creates a disconnect with a movie that is otherwise pretty grim. Jack Reacher's timing is also unfortunate with respect to some of the content: the movie opens with an image of a sniper putting a six-year old girl in the crosshairs of his scope. And, while the child isn't slain, five other people are - all-in-all, not a great way to create an environment of "escapism" given current events. (In McQuarrie's defense, primary shooting on Jack Reacher was complete long before even the Aurora incident.)

Jack Reacher's centerpiece action sequences, which include a lengthy car chase and a shootout/fight, are shot in a clear, coherent manner but lack the content to make them noteworthy. They are generic staples and, because no sense of excitement or suspense accompanies them, they feel overlong and at times almost tedious. Jack Reacher is B-level material that has been given an A-level treatment. Despite all the talent involved both in front of and behind the camera, this would-be franchise launcher never achieves anything better than a decaying low orbit. I wouldn't bet the mortgage on there being a Jack Reacher 2.

Jack Reacher (United States, 2012)

Run Time: 2:10
U.S. Release Date: 2012-12-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity,Sexual Content)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1