Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
I quite enjoyed the first Jack Reacher film. It almost had something. Christopher McQaurrie’s adaptation (full disclosure: I’m no Reacher-reader) was an engaging procedural whose narrative fleetness was let down a little by having to fend off thick and fast genre tropes, and let down a lot by lack of an actual character for Rosamund Pike to sink her teeth into. But Werner Herzog as the mysterious villain? Genius! And Cruise pulls off sociopath-with-a-code Reacher quite believably. Edward Zwick, significantly ups the action ante in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back but manages to turn its cat and mouse plot into quite the stodge-fest. ‘Dramatic’ scenes are weighed down with heavy exposition and all the thrillerish twists are telegraphed to the point that the close-up shots of Jack-Reaching-conclusions-face crossover into the realm of physical comedy.
Despite successfully anchoring a five film action franchise with Mission Impossible, starring in a number of one-off fast paced genre outings like Knight and Day or Edge of Tomorrow, and now delivering his second Jack Reacher action-procedural, I’m still finding it difficult to situate Tom Cruise, in my mind, as an ‘action star’. Perhaps has to do with my strong early impressions of him being a bad-toothed greaser, an exploitative asshole brother, an arrogant fighter pilot, or a poor and poorly accented Irish-American immigrant? Or perhaps it’s that he regularly reminds us just what a strong actor he is with dramatic efforts like Magnolia or comedic turns such as his standout cameo in Tropic Thunder? Whatever the case, I certainly wasn’t expecting his latter era career to start bearing similarity to that of Jean Claude Van Damme or, dare I say it, Steven Seagal! And yet, Never Go Back has many of the hallmarks of a solid DTV actioner: the convoluted plot, dual mastermind and mercenary top bad guys—cue final fight!—a sassy street-smart girl who definitely-doesn’t-need-rescuing-but-actually-does, and the kind of dialogue that lands like thickly grated cheddar on bed of toasted exposition. Seriously, a Military Police Captain who is hunting Reacher and co., when requesting intel on a suspicious paramilitary group, actually utters words akin to “I want to know everything about them: bank statements, travel records…how they like their eggs! And I want to know it yesterday!!!” Zwick and co-writer Richard Zenk’s script is the kind of travesty that actually gets so bad it begins to be unintentionally funny.
Cobie Smulders’ co-lead role of Major Turner—the object of this story’s frame-up—is both a refreshing about face from Rosamund Pike’s lawyer from the first film and a bit of a mess. Smulders carries the action well enough, and she naturally inhabits that gruff military commander space, but she is also utilised as a kind of ‘issues wand’, clumsily waved about as proof that the filmmakers got the memo after film one. They’re also quick to offload Turner’s unwieldy, straight-laced ethics as soon as the action set pieces require it…though I can live with that.
Is Jack Reacher: Never Go Back a bad movie? It most certainly is. But I enjoyed it, in fits, anyway. And probably for reasons other than the ones I expect the filmmakers were hoping.
Rating: M Violence.