‘Jack Reacher’ (2012) Movie Review

Rosamund Pike and Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher
Rosamund Pike and Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Jack Reacher? Who’s Jack Reacher? Hi. Are you Jack Reacher? Oh… Jack Reacher…

Jack Reacher is not at all what I expected. It’s a tonal hodgepodge of genre films from the murder-mysteries of the ’40s, the whodunnits of the ’70s and thrillers of the ’90s. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun), the character development is on-the-nose, with little subtlety and very little is hidden from the audience as most of the pieces come together rather easily and we’re left waiting for the characters on screen — primarily Rosamund Pike — to give their wide-eyed, open-mouth look of astonishment once they catch up with the audience.

There’s something of a tongue-in-cheek nature to the way it all plays out, playful flirtation and hard-nosed street brawling to boot. But the narrative never quite gets into gear to the point it’s moving of its own volition as much as it seems we’re waiting for each scene to finally arrive with a hope that something will soon surprise us.

I wasn’t necessarily bored watching it, but considering how picky Tom Cruise is when it comes to his films, I’m a little surprised he went for something this generic, with a character that has so little to reveal on most every level.

The titular Reacher is a character created by Lee Child in over 15 novels centered on the former Military Police Major. Described as 6′ 5″ tall and somewhere around 250 pounds in the novels, clearly the much smaller Cruise serves as a departure from the fictional character of Child’s creation. Physical characteristics, however, are something I’m not too concerned about, especially since I haven’t read the novels and only mention it so those that have are prepared.

The story begins, however, not with Reacher, but with an anonymous sniper, which we see plain as day and could pick out of a lineup if necessary. This guy takes out five strangers along a Pittsburgh river walk and after a brief investigation, the police have a suspect, James Barr (Joseph Sikora). Only problem, Barr clearly isn’t the guy we just saw kill those five people.

During his interrogation by police investigator Emerson (a far-too-intense David Oyelowo) and the district attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins), Barr writes down one thing on a piece of paper, “GET JACK REACHER.”

Next, Emerson is giving Rodin the background on the mysterious Reacher and how he’s become a drifter since his days in the Army and little do they know, they won’t have to go looking for him… he’s already at their door.

Knock, knock.

“Who’s there?”

“Jack Reacher.”

“Well come on in, we were just about to look for you.”

And that’s about the extent of their background check before Reacher is in the hospital room with Barr, asking questions and placing blame.

One thing leads to another, Rodin’s daughter, Helen (Rosamund Pike), brings daddy issues to the table and is serving as the defense lawyer for Barr, going up against her father who views the case as a slam dunk. Reacher eventually joins Helen as her lead investigator for reasons I’ll leave for you to find out on your own, even though most of the cards are on the table by the 45 minute mark.

Jack Reacher bounces to a bit of a different beat and it plays as a rather dark thriller even if it never particularly feels like one. I was never all that intrigued by the villains, which include Werner Herzog in a rather thankless role and Jai Courtney (he’ll be playing Bruce Willis’ son in the upcoming A Good Day To Die Hard) as the muscle. These guys don’t exactly seem all that professional, relying on low-level street thugs to do dirty work and then hanging around crime scenes after planting evidence. Why not just leave?

I did, however, enjoy seeing the Days of Thunder reunion as Robert Duvall shows up for the film’s latter half for a bit of good ol’ boy camaraderie, but even Duvall’s involvement reaches a tipping point.

Cruise walks around as Reacher with little concern for his well-being, knowing full well he can take on any and all comers, even if that means a five-on-one street fight. Admittedly, at the age of 50, Cruise still has what it takes to take on an action role as a brawl between him and the 26-year-old Courtney is quite good, but what we’re seeing here is nowhere near the intensity he brought to Vincent in Michael Mann’s Collateral.

If there’s a sign Cruise is beginning to show his age, it’s that Jack Reacher, unless my memory fails me, is the first time we don’t see Cruise in an extended running sequence. Instead of hitting the pavement with the soles of his shoes, this time he choses muscle cars to get him from point-A to point-B.

Getting back to the strange tonal feel of the pic, if anything, Reacher reminded me of Paul Newman’s Harper, a serviceable film with an actor I very much enjoy, but far from his best. I only hope if Jack Reacher is able to get a sequel it turns out a lot better than The Drowning Pool.

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