Run-of-the-mill 'Jack Reacher' is not hard to grasp

05:00 AM, Dec 20, 2012

Despite a terrific cast, 'Jack Reacher,' starring Tom Cruise in the title role, offers a mediocre and cliched thriller. Karen Ballard, Paramount Pictures/


Written By by Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

Not reaching too far beyond the obvious, Jack Reacher, the mysterious stranger, travels on well-trod turf.

A crime thriller based on Lee Child’s novel One Shot, the eponymous Jack Reacher (** out of four; rated PG-13; opening Friday nationwide) stars Tom Cruise as an enigmatic loner, a former military police officer and brave latter-day knight errant who heeds his own moral code above all laws. In other words, he’s a flesh-and-blood superhero.

Jack is called in by former military sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora), who is accused of murdering five people at random. Following his arrest, the alleged killer scribbled a cryptic note: “Get Jack Reacher.”

Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), the public defender representing Barr, tracks down the elusive Jack and realizes he can prove useful. Super-observant, Reacher catches details that others don’t — such as the fact that the killer fired six shots. Helen hires Jack as an investigator and he begins breaking down the minutiae of the murders.

The police, especially lead detective Emerson (David Oyelowo), are convinced the killings are a slam-dunk case. Reacher knew the accused in the military and remembers him as a first-rate sniper. So, his first question is why one of the shots missed a target.

Jack questions the honesty of Helen’s district attorney father, Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins), and teams up with Cash (Robert Duvall), an ex-soldier who runs a shooting range. The tricky relationship between Helen and her father is one of the more intriguing parts of the film. Is he crooked? Does he have her best interests at heart, or is he power-mad? Can she trust him?

The top-flight ensemble cast, which includes filmmaker Werner Herzog as a shadowy Russian mobster, is generally saddled with bland, one-dimensional parts. Pike brings intelligence and warmth to a rather lackluster role. Cruise is competent as the hard-hearted righter of wrongs, convincing as a guy who’s fairly impervious to danger. Reacher is not all that different from the guy he plays in the Mission: Impossible movies. But the movie is a far cry from those well-made spy thrillers. Reacher is limited by a lack of originality and hampered by thematic clichés and generic action sequences.

Reacher is tough, cunning and ruthless. He also is a tortured soul. He pops up in the least expected places and fends off attackers by the dozen. It’s a part that would seem tailor-made for Cruise. Except that the character as written on the page — based on the ninth of Child’s 17 Reacher novels — is tall and blond. He’s also sharp-witted, but there’s little evidence of that trait in the dialogue Cruise is given.

Director Christopher McQuarrie worked with Cruise on Valkyrie, which was one of the actor’s biggest missteps. A credible action star, Cruise’s best performances have been playing complex villains in such films as 1999’s Magnolia and 2004’s Collateral.

The movie sets up a subtle romance between Jack and Helen that is more about nuance than consummation. But then Jack is a solitary man. And in a nasty interaction with a girl in a bar, he borders on misogynistic.

In the books, Reacher is all about eliminating injustice and meting out punishment to deserving bad guys. But in the movie he spends a lot of time in generic action hero mode, simply running.

Despite a terrific cast, Jack Reacher comes up empty-handed.