‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ is a formulaic and flat male fantasy action flick
PHOTO BY PARAMOUNT PICTURES
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
Where is it playing?: Hi-Way Drive-In, Parks Plaza, Movies Lompoc
What's it rated?: PG-13
What's it worth?: $ Streaming
What's it worth?: $ Rental
Edward Zwick (Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai, Pawn Sacrifice) directs Tom Cruise as he reprises his role as Jack Reacher, a character from Lee Child’s book series. This time around Reacher—an off-the-grid military operator who rights the wrongs that regular law enforcement can’t—must suss out a government conspiracy that threatens his own freedom. (118 min.)
Editor’s note: Anna Starkey went to Universal Studios to visit Harry Potter World, so Executive Editor Camillia Lanham stood in this week.
Glen: As a dude, I’m susceptible to these types of male fantasy flicks. Movies like The Bourne Identity (2002), Man on Fire (2004), Casino Royale (2006), Taken (2008), and The Equalizer (2014) play into men’s cultural programming to be strong, to protect the vulnerable, and to overcome unbeatable odds. The hero always has a deadly “skill set,” there’s always a damsel—or better yet a young girl in need of protecting, even if she doesn’t know it—and the odds are never, ever in the hero’s favor. And, yes, somehow the hero wins out. He may have to take a beating or two, he may even die, but rest assured, he’ll win. He’ll save the young girl, avenge the puppy, right the wrongs, and restore balance. It’s formulaic, predictable, and ridiculous, and it gets me every time. Of course, some of these films are better than others, and this new Jack Reacher film, though it has its charms, isn’t quite in the league of the aforementioned films. This time around, the damsel is Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders)—the new head of Reacher’s old unit, the 110th Military Police—who stumbles upon what she thinks is an illegal arms dealing in the Middle East. Two of her soldiers are killed when they go to investigate and she’s thrown in military prison. When Reacher shows up, to up the emotional ante, he discovers he might have a daughter, Samantha (Danika Yarosh), and soon he, Turner, and Samantha become the target of The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger). Lots of chases, fights, and gun battles ensue.
Camillia: Let me start out by saying action flicks don’t only belong in a man’s world. I grew up watching action flicks with my father (yes, Lethal Weapon)—and do love the Bourne series, James Bond (some are better than others, for sure), Mission Impossible, and anything with a good chase scene in it. That being said, this film was not my favorite. Maybe it’s because I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never read the books and didn’t watch Cruise play Reacher the first time. And if it wasn’t for some of the action sequences, I wouldn’t have liked the movie at all. Say what you want to about Cruise, but he’s got the potential to make the movies that he stars in better. Not sure he did that with this one. His tough-guy attitude was so overacted; it made me almost laugh out loud at the beginning of the film. It was as if, every time the camera zoomed in on his face, the director said: “OK, clench your jaw!” The sparks that are supposed to be flying between Reacher and the major never really seemed to meld into the chemistry that allegedly exists between the two. It felt forced to me, but the acting did get better as the film progressed—or maybe it was because there was more action, less talking.
Glen: Many fans of the Lee Child book series have lamented casting Cruise in the Jack Reacher role. In the books, Reacher’s described as a 6-foot-5 giant of a man; Cruise is 5-foot-7 and fit as a fiddle at 54, but he probably weighs about 160 pounds. But Child (the nom de plume for author Jim Grant) has said Reacher’s size is merely a metaphor for an unstoppable force. Child’s character is a loner, a “knight errant” who wanders the country doing odd jobs and trying to stay out of trouble … until he’s pulled into it. Cruise plays Reacher as a guy who doesn’t fit in, either in the military world or the civilian one. It’s a pretty limiting role, and I think Cruise does what he can with it. Smulders isn’t given much to do with Maj. Turner either. She’s got to be tougher than the men around her as a major in the MPs, but she also needs to be vulnerable enough to need Reacher. The character given the most to do is Samantha, which Yarosh plays as a tough kid forced to grow up too fast. There’s a lot of teenage pouting mixed with running for her life. The bad guys are all pretty one dimensional, so the story feels flat. One would hope that a director of Zwick’s skills could find a way to make the proceedings a bit more interesting, but he doesn’t even bother to make the final showdown’s setting—New Orleans, for God’s sake—seem alive. In the end, this second installment in the Reacher movie series feels a bit like a cheap money grab. With 21 novels in the series, I won’t be surprised to see more on their way.
Camillia: I do enjoy Smulder as Maj. Turner when she’s not trying to be in love with Reacher. She’s tough, and I have to say that, as a woman, it’s easy to relate to her position and the trouble that comes along with working at the top of a man’s world. But it would have been nice if she were tougher—and portrayed as more of a badass in the fight scenes. Then again, I understand that this movie is about Reacher constantly saving the day in his unorthodox ways. And I will say Cruise does his best acting when in the emotional scenes, where Reacher is interacting with Samantha—a tough kid with a tough past who’s just looking for somebody who will care about her. In those scenes, there were glimpses of what the movie could have been if the characters had been given a little bit more depth. I think there was a little bit of CGI-attempted magic that tried to make Cruise’s Reacher seem like more of a “giant of a man,” but it was a little jarring when that magic went away and we were left with just Cruise. All in all, it’s a film worth streaming late on a Friday night as you fall asleep on the couch with some munchies.
Sun Screen is written by New Times Staff Writer Glen Starkey and Executive Editor Camillia Lanham. Comment at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.