October 21, 2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Live. Die. Repeat.

Grade: D +
Director: Edward Zwick
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger and Danika Yarosh
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Whereas Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise is his successful American appropriation of James Bond, Jack Reacher is a stillborn Jason Bourne. Now saddled with a title-cum-epitaph, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a sequel nobody wants to a movie few remember.

With Christopher McQuarrie, director of the first Jack Reacher film in 2012, graduating to Cruise’s last M:I installment, Never Go Back is left with director Edward Zwick. Zwick previously worked with Cruise on The Last Samurai, but their sophomore collaboration comes off like a bad knockoff of a 1980s thriller, or a STARZ original movie.

It’s easier to list the ways this purported plot doesn’t make sense than how it might. In the midst of walking the earth and getting into adventures, Reacher (Cruise) decides to finally pay a visit to Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), his military police successor and new handler, presumably because she has a flirty phone voice. When he arrives back at Fort Dyer, he learns that Turner has been arrested for espionage in relation to the overseas shooting of a couple of military investigators.

It’s barely discernible why the bad guys want to frame Turner. But once Reacher starts asking questions, they suddenly decide to also target him, with the death of Turner’s military lawyer. Oh, by the way, Reacher discovers he’s been sued by a woman he doesn’t remember for paternity of a teenage girl, Samantha (Danika Yarosh), he didn’t know about.

It’s anyone guess why a shadowy military contractor and their hired heavy (Patrick Heusinger) decide to go after Reacher’s daughter, particularly after daddy starts protecting her, rather than the woman—who plays no part in the film—with whom he presumably had this child. In between, the cast runs around a lot, hamstrung by wooden dialogue and emotions. The actors, even the earnest and reliable Cruise, never appear in sync with each other or the director, who leans heavily on reaction shots and ham-fisted editing.

But it’s plot craters that cripple this misbegotten military potboiler. Supporting characters appear without much lead-up and then recede before being developed. When our trio use some IDs and credit cards Samantha stole to purchase plane tickets to New Orleans, the baddies are somehow immediately alerted, even though the only way they could is if the credit cards had already been reported stolen, in which case they probably couldn't be used them to buy airline tickets. Two paramilitary minions somehow make their way onto the same plane, where Reacher dispatches both midflight, one in clear view of the passenger cabin, without arousing any clamor.

It all ends in The Big Easy, where the interior scenes—including a couple of false endings, one prompted by that dang stolen credit card somehow still working—look like they were filmed on the set of a high school production of A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s capped by a howler of a denouement that questions how the paternity suit against Reacher could ever exist in the first place.

Any invitation to suspend disbelief for Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is countered by the fact that the film’s labyrinthine narrative invites such scrutiny, and that the already mind-numbing narrative amounts to even less without its darting plotlines propelling it. If this is what the Jack Reacher films will give us, let’s all agree to never go back.