A snappy mystery-thriller that fizzles
In a world where nobody actually reads books anymore and every other novel is a “bestseller,” the Lee Child “Jack Reacher” stories are so categorised, and Paramount figures on making a franchise out of them starring Tom Cruise. Alas, this sure-fire project seems dead in the water. This first movie gradually falls apart with Christopher McQuarrie’s unimpressive adaptation and limp direction. It begins with some snappy Forties-film dialogue and a, possibly, interesting mystery with hints of Chinatown-style corruption at the top, but it peters out as the dialogue degenerates into bone-crushing fist-fights and finally collapses with a dull thud in a shoot-out showdown that doesn’t even make much sense. Along the way Richard Jenkins and the great Werner Herzog in a rare acting role (with a scary glass eye) are wasted and David Oyelowo lacks the perverse charm he exhibited in Lee Daniels’ despised Paperboy. Jenkins isn’t really cast right either, as the suspicious DA. I guess James Cromwell wasn’t available. But it’s unlikely that any acting or casting would have saved this movie from being a disappointment. And oh yes, also wasted is Robert Duvall, as a semi-creepy ex-Marine who runs a target range where gun enthusiasts congregate. This may be a bad time after the elementary school massacre to release a movie featuring automatic weapons and a sniper, but Second Amendment enthusiasts don’t come across as at all nice here, or even very sane.
The good news is the stories seem, from this first one, kind of pulpy fun — sort of James Elroy lite. The bad news is Tom Cruise is miscast. Jack Reacher is clearly meant to be a Stallone/Swarzenegger Dirty Harry kind of hulk and Cruise is much too clean-cut and noble — too Tom Cruise-y, you might say — and physically almost a whole foot too short (Jack measures 6’5″ in the novels; Tom, 5’7″-plus without elevator shoes). Basically a super sleuth who unlike the private dicks of old never gets knocked out, Reacher isn’t without touches of complexity. There’s a suspicion of pain and disappointment in his past, and the seediness that must accompany any American who makes all his long trips by bus, or if he needs a car must borrow or steal one. An army vet with a remarkable record as a military crime investigator, for some reason as a civilian he chooses to live wholly below the radar. Hence the bus rides (because airlines check ID’s), and no credit cards, no phone numbers or email, not even a change of shirts (outright forcing him to show his fortyish bare chest to the female lead). He’s sort of a self-imposed Jason Bourne.
As Helen, the DA’s daughter who takes on Reacher as an investigator, Rosamund Pike is a blonde of almost Grace Kelly-esque purity who talks slow — too slow; her version of purity verges on retardation. But she sure stays pure: she and Jack stand close but never even kiss. She takes on a rather challenging case. The defendant, an army vet himself trained as a sniper in the service, presumed guilty by her father and the police due to physical evidence, has been beaten into a coma by fellow prisoners, or maybe cops. Before that happened, he’s scrawled “Get Reacher” over a confession he refused to sign. Making way for the hero’s dramatic entry into the story, you see.
We’ve watched the crime at the outset through the scope of a rifle: a sniper’s killing of five across the river that runs through Pittsburgh, but we don’t know who done it. It turns out to be something more complicated, if, in McQuarrie’s version, not quite complicated enough. (It’s been a while since McQuarrie collaborated with Bryan Singer on the tricky Oscar-winning script of The Usual Suspects.) The peripheral bad guys are a bit too peripheral. Herzog has a memorable little scene about chewing off his fingers in a Russian gulag to save himself from gangrene, but it doesn’t form a meaningful part of the plot. Neither does the car chase. Unless you are desperate for a new, violent police procedural or a brief glimpse of Werner Herzog as a bad guy, you might as well avoid this movie.
DIRECTOR: Christopher McQuarrie
WRITER: McQuarrie from ‘First Shot’ by Lee Childs
STARS: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall
RUNTIME: 130 MIN