Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Title: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 

Bart: There's just no room in this modern world for an old man and...his ducks.


Brief Plot Synopsis: Taciturn ex-soldier runs from the authorities and his own past.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two copies of Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage out of five.

Tagline: "Never give in, never give up, never go back."

Better Tagline: "I will be your father figure/Put your tiny hand in mine"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Former major Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) has been doing odd jobs for his old Army buddies for a while and decides after a while to pay a visit to Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), the new commander of his old MP unit. Thoughts of romance come to a screeching halt when Reacher learns Turner has been arrested for espionage. What does this have to do with the mysterious death of two of her soldiers in Afghanistan? And how does it tie in with the revelation that Reacher might have a 15-year-old daughter named Samantha (Danika Yarosh)?

"Critical" Analysis: Tom Cruise is getting too old for this shit. Not in the Roger Murtaugh/Sgt. Hulka sense of the word, but in the original march of time definition. Cruise is 54, and while the cinematic tradition of action-movie grandpas is a rich one (for comparison, Sean Connery was 53 in another "never" movie: Never Say Never Again), in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the cracks and crow's feet in the facade are finally starting to show.

Never Go Back is the second adaptation of Lee Child's popular 18-book (and counting) series about the hulking vagrant. Theoretically, with a name like Tom Cruise's attached, you'd be looking at a sturdy franchise (provided the films themselves are watchable, but more on that later). And even ten years ago, that'd be a safe proposition. Now, it just feels like the ship has sailed.

Which is kind of a drag, because honestly, if you were going to complain that the 5'9"-ish Cruise was incorrect casting for the 6'5", 250-lb. book character, you probably got it out of your system before the first movie. Jack Reacher should have been Cruise's character until a) he decided he wants to move on, or b) Child's next book had Reacher rescuing someone from the Church of Scientology.

Cruise's imprint negatively affects the character in other ways, anyway. His insistence on running in all his movies, for example. Reacher is repeatedly described as a character who simply doesn't leg it; it's literally the only thing about him that could count as a weakness. Yet here, as with every movie he's made since Mission: Impossible or so, he has several sprinting scenes in keeping with what must be a contract stipulation at this point.

Cruise's Reacher also isn't a cold enough bastard. In the first movie, he puts down his rifle so he can fight the Generic Buzzcut Merc (tm) fair and square. In Never Go Back, he allows a different Generic Buzzcut Merc to goad him into acting stupidly. No, and no. We can forgive the height thing if Reacher is a reliable murder machine, but too much of this dilutes the brand. Eventually, the character won't resemble "Jack Reacher" much at all. 

Unrelated note to self: Finish that spec script about Mr. Clarke from the Jack Ryan books.

Director Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) and his co-writer, Richard Wenk (The Magnificent Seven), share some of the blame for helping dilute the brand. It took 18 books for Child to bring Reacher's alleged daughter into the mix, but only two movies. The skull-crushing twist on the family road trip feels rushed along, and doesn't ring true, especially when Reacher and Turner (Smulders at her most stoic), hunted by the Army and corrupt military contractors alike, leave Samantha alone in a New Orleans hotel for hours at a time.

Right. New Orleans. Louisiana is a popular filming location these days thanks to generous tax incentives, so moving the action to the Big Easy makes economic sense. What is more incomprehensible is Zwick's and Wenk's scripting a thrilling chase scene down the heart of Bourbon Street. During Halloween. If you've ever been in NO for that holiday — or Mardi Gras, or New Year's Eve, or St. Patrick's Day, or the average Thursday night — you know the fastest you can "chase" anyone through the French Quarter is about half a mile an hour, after which you'd be too covered in beer/hurricanes/vomit to do much fighting.

The original Jack Reacher (written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie) was — to many — a surprisingly taut and effective thriller, effectively distancing itself from its star's real-life weirdness. Zwick and Cruise can't recapture that, and it might be time to lower the boom on this series before Cruise begins to resemble John Wayne in Brannigan.


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