”The car chases and shoot outs happen with speed and precision. They are done well enough, yet feel old-fashioned. With all of this lack of imagination, you would think this was meant as a subtle homage of some kind to, say, Bullitt, but it just feels like any 80s action film of the week. I wanted to call it bland, but it felt too slick to bore me. And any film where the potential love interested tells a shirtless Mr. Cruise to put it on isn’t really asking for much other than your undivided attention.”
Jack Reacher, Movie Review
How much of a chore is Jack Reacher to sit through? Remember when Tom Cruise wanted to be perceived as a serious actor? He’s worked with many of the best directors, best actors, best screenwriters, and married/divorced some of the best women in show business. If there is anyone in the world who could be working with serious ground-breaking auteurs as they age, it is him. For some reason, he seems to want to become the male action star version of Madonna as he enters his fifth decade. It’s not like he doesn’t have the ability to impress anymore. Last summer, he showed everyone he could, of all things, sing well in Rock of Ages, a film that was only memorable due to his soulful performance. Now, it’s back to what Hollywood perceives he will now do best: make generic mainstream action movies. The kind Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone used to make in the 80s. Mr. Cruise scored comeback paydirt a year ago with the shockingly good (and successful) Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. This time, he takes one of the screenwriters from that project, frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, to attempt to start (or bastardize, depending on your perspective) a new franchise to take the played-out M:I’s place. This time, it’s the first film adaptation of Lee Child’s (who has a cameo) bestselling series featuring a more masculine than ideally masculine vigilante named Jack Reacher in a film so-cleverly titled Jack Reacher (yes, I know its original title was One Shot, but I didn’t make them change it).
The character of Jack Reacher achieves easy comparisons to James Bond or even Batman. The way Mr. Child describes him, he’s almost like a live-action version of Patrick Warburton’s character Brock Samson on The Venture Brothers: 6’5, wavy blond hair, Incredible Hulk physique, impressive military background, witty cantor. The casting of Mr. Cruise in this role made me wonder if it really been nearly twenty years since he initially infuriated readers (and the author) by deciding to play the vampire Lestat in Interview with the Vampire. That was also a film that failed to start a potential franchise starring him for some reason, yet resulted in a most impressive perfshut up a lot of Goth folk back when they actually had some integrity left. Since he was willing to don a blond wig for that role (not to mention bleach his hair for Collateral), I wonder if his natural crew cut look here was so the audience would not draw comparisons to those previous roles. Considering Mr. Cruise’s odious rep over the past few years he’s tried to shove off (but keeps blowing up in his face), the level of menacing personal baggage he brings with him to any film compensates that his physical stature that is anything but threatening or ominous. We still believe he can battle men half his age and not embarrass himself.
The story of Jack Reacher really isn’t anything worth mentioning in too much detail. It is based off of the ninth novel (out of currently seventeen) in the series where Jack must solve the mystery of why a sniper decided to kill five random strangers in Pittsburgh by a river, then make himself so easy to catch. This opening scene was a most impressive opener in the film. Sadly, there’s still a lot of movie to go and the rest never lives up to it. Jack Reacher arrives in this one horse city not to prove his supposed innocence, but to prove him guilty as charged. Naturally, he begins to doubt this assumption once he starts to get in over his meticulous little head. If this film had been made in the 80s…it still wouldn’t be considered anything other than taut, second-rate plotting.
Luckily, what the film lacks in story quality and character development, it makes up for in the casting department. Richard Jenkins, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, and Robert Duvall all make up a dream team of perfectly wasted talent in empty, unworthy, stereotypical action movie roles. None of them needed the work that badly. They all seem to be having a lot more fun making the film then we are watching it. Of course, every action film needs a generic villain. Legendary director and fine actor Werner Herzog works wonderfully as something he was born to play in Hollywood: Scary European Heavy. Though his caricature performance works since he seems to be commenting on himself as much as the character itself, watching it only made me want to see hie seems to have fun with the role and take this rather unrealistic character very seriously. Though I have never read any of these novels, I have been told that Jack Reacher is very funny and witty. Mr. Cruise is simply too opaque to exhibit any of these inner qualities. His Reacher is more monosyllabic than dreamboat.
Fortunately, Mr. McQuarrie’s capable, streamlined direction moves things along nicely enough that we never actually question anything we’re watching. It is all very exact and detailed. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the director of The Way of the Gun and screenwriter of The Usual Suspects. The subtle, workmanlike cinematography by Caleb Deschanel helps by visualizing the action clearly and unambiguously. For once, that actually helps the film. There’s no hand-held camera work or noticeable CGI here. The car chases and shoot outs happen with speed and precision. They are done well enough, yet feel old-fashioned. With all of this lack of imagination, you would think this was meant as a subtle homage of some kind to, say, Bullitt, but it just feels like any 80s action film of the week. I wanted to call it bland, but it felt too slick to bore me. And any film where the potential love interested tells a shirtless Mr. Cruise to put it on isn’t really asking for much other than your undivided attention.
The running time is a little long at over two hours long. I suspect that they are able to get away with such a relaxed time frame since it is, in fact, based upon a novel. One would think that ninety minutes would suffice for this level of entertainment. Well-done pulp is still pulp. The pacing is assured and the plot structure works, considering that it is all done at one level. Though it achieves some effective humor, the tone never descends into camp (it would’ve been too easy to call it Jack Reacharound), but it also never settles on anything resembling coherence other than its visual style. It’s rational, it’s calculated, and it seems to believe that actually stands for something. These days, that might be good enough to escape from the serious, overlong Oscar contenders. Just b/c they had to postpone the premiere b/c of the recent school shooting tragedy doesn’t mean going to this film makes you a bad person. I also doubt the 12/21/12 release of Jack Reacher will bring upon the Mayan-predicted end of the world. I say, live a little while we still can.
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