Starring Tom Cruise & Rosamund Pike
Directed by Richard McQuarrie
PG-13, 130 min.
Released Dec. 21, 2012
A young sniper trains his high-powered rifle on a group of unsuspecting citizens in a crowded plaza, scans possible targets through his scope and then opens fire. Five victims fall, including a young woman carrying a small child.
That’s the opening scene of “Jack Reacher,” the new movie based on the justice-dispensing vigilante created by British author Lee Child and appearing in a series of 17 crime novels.
Timing can be everything, and the makers, stars and distributors of “Jack Reacher” couldn’t have known that their movie, with its release date pre-set months in advance, would roll out to a nation still reeling from the shock and horror of Sandy Hook, Conn., when just weeks earlier another young man and his gun took the lives of 20 children and six adults.
But that dreadful bit of scheduling isn’t the only problem with “Jack Reacher,” an often outlandish, overly talky crime-procedural drama that seems like a vanity project its marquee star, Tom Cruise, must have wanted to do with his director buddy, Christopher McQuarrie, while cooling their heels until their next “Mission Impossible” collaboration started production.
The plot is based on one of Child’s “Reacher” novels, “One Shot,” about the seemingly open-shut case against the sniper, whom the police round up, along with plenty of incriminating evidence, almost immediately after his Pittsburgh shooting spree. But just when the D.A. thinks he’s getting a signed confession, the sniper is instead scribbling a message: It reads “Get Jack Reacher.”
Reacher, we find out, is a “ghost,” a phantom-like, near-mythical former military policeman and decorated war hero who served in Iraq but then went off the grid after his discharge, roaming the country as a dark angel of justice with only a toothbrush, one shirt and some crazy-mad fighting, weaponry and crime-solving skills.
Since he lives “off the grid” with no identification, address, phone or other traceable information, no one knows how to reach Reacher—and then, boom, he just shows up. Hey, that was easy!
Reacher’s convinced the sniper suspect is guilty, but then he’s convinced he’s not. Then he’s convinced the shooter’s been framed—and he’s been framed, too. Are you confused yet?
You will be, especially when you meet the monstrous half-blind Russian mobster (famed movie director Werner Herzog in a hammy cameo) who chewed off his own fingers, get bogged down in some murky conspiracy details, and become sidetracked in the daddy issues of the suspect’s buxom defense lawyer (Rosamund Pike) and her district attorney father (Richard Jenkins).
And that’s all before you come across Robert Duvall as a crusty gun-shop owner who has no clear motivation for helping Reacher in the epic showdown that involves rescuing the damsel in distress, driving a speeding car backward into a battery of gunfire, and throwing down his weapon to deliver a bone-crushing, bare-knuckled beat-down in the pouring rain.
The production values aren’t much above TV primetime, the story seems like little more than an extended version of a “C.S.I.” episode, the action sequences are few and far between, and the barrage of back-and-forth blah-blah-blah will tax even the most attentive viewers.
And Cruise seems like he’s…well…cruising, playing Reacher with his trademark clean-cut, smug and cocky sense of self-assurance that’s completely at odds with what we’re supposed to think of his character as darker and much more conflicted, someone whose moral compass doesn’t point “true” to anything and who has no qualms about ending lives to even scores.
In the books, Reacher is a loner, always slipping back into the murky darkness and disappearing at the end of each story…until the next time. Likewise, at the end of the movie, we see Cruise on a bus, headed out of town.
“Jack Reacher” is supposedly the beginning of a movie franchise, the seed for more adventures to come. But unless everyone involved with this unsteady start can get their act in better shape, perhaps it’s better if Jack just stays off the grid.