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Movie Review: "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" Is Very Much A Movie That Exists

Starring Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh,
Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany
Based on the novel "Never Go Back" by Lee Child
Screenplay by Richard Wenk and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herkovitz
Directed by Edward Zwick

Reviewed by Paul and Patrick Gibbs

Out of Four

Before the screening of the new Jack Reacher sequel, we still heard people in the audience debating whether Tom Cruise was appropriately cast as author Lee Child's  character, portrayed as a much larger man in the books. To us, the more pertinent question is what Cruise sees in this bland character from what is at best middling source material. We're just not on board with the wandering mix of John Rambo and Jessica Fletcher, whose special skill seems to be to inhabit a world in which everyone around him is a complete idiot. This is a character whose solution to every problem is a violent beating. We can imagine him potty training as a child:

"Are you gonna pee in the potty today, Jackie?"

"How about I rip off the seat and beat you to death with the potty?"

Reacher's first cinematic outing was a slog that was far too impressed with its own supposed cleverness, and largely squandered the charisma of its leading man and the talents of writer/director Christopher McQuarrie. As such it was hard for us to get all that excited about a sequel, even with director Edward Zwick (Glory) at the helm. What we ended up getting was a film that was faster-paced, less full of itself and more engaging than its predecessor, but also less atmospheric and more generic.

This time out, Reacher's travels have caused him to engage in along distance collaboration with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), the woman who has his old command. They engage in some mild telephone flirting, and since Reacher has nowhere in particular to go, apparently her voice is hot enough to drag him back to a place he seems to hate for the possibility of hooking up with her. But when Reacher gets to the base he finds that Turner has been accused of treason, and since this is the kind of thing Reacher does as he travels the country in his warped, ultra violent variation on Highway To Heaven, he gets involved in the matter. And since Cruise has spent much of the past 20 years doing veiled remakes of The Fugitive,  he sees no reason to break with tradition and ends up wrongfully accused and the run with Turner.

The twist in the story that gives it a more personal, character oriented touch is the presence of 15 year old Samantha Dayton (Danica Yarosh), a tough street kid who a paternity suit alleges is Reacher's daughter. While there's plenty of cliche in the relationship, there's also an emotional connection that gives Cruise the chance to do the best acting he's done in this franchise and makes Reacher a bit more human and relatable. Yarosh is a fairly appealing presence and has good chemistry with both Cruise and Smulders, who also have pretty strong chemistry with each other. Smulders demonstrates in a larger action heroine role than she's been given in the Marvel films that action is a good fit for her, and it's time to let her have the chance to carry an action film on her own, ala Helen Hunt in Twister. Unfortunately, the characterizations of the film's villains are as dull and run of the mill as the stock mystery they populate.

 As a director, Zwick does mostly solid (if unremarkable) work, creating one truly effective and memorable set piece in the climactic chase through what, as far as we could tell from the production design, was the annual New Orleans Munsterr, Go Home! Fan Convention.  This movie quite a departure from Zwick's usual Oscar-bait liberal guilt dramas, and his heart doesn't seem to be in it, though he and his longtime writing partner Marshall Herkovitz spice up the mostly wooden (and occasionally audience insulting) dialogue with a few moments that are actually pretty good. While we don't think shifting gears to specialize in thrillers would be a good career direction for Zwick, he handles himself just fine, but we'd much  rather have seen Cruise pull him in to the Mission: Impossible franchise.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back isn't really all that good or all that bad. Just as the books are the kind of thing you grab off the shelf of an airport gift shop because your flight boards in five minutes and you have to choose something, this is the kind of movie you see at a dollar theater when there's nothing really good playing, and for that kind of movie it's a relatively good one, likely to keep you feeling adequately entertained and like you got your $1.50's worth. For some audiences it may even be a satisfying enough mid-October snack until more interesting films hit in November. But like it's predecessor it's suffering so clearly from an excess of testosterone that it has a visible mustache (which is not to say that it's action packed. More that it's too impressed with its own tough guy attitude.).

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