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Josh Reviews Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

October 27th, 2017
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Recently I reviewed Kingsman: The Golden Circle.  I thought the first Kingsman movie was mediocre, and I wasn’t expecting a sequel to ever get made, but when one was, I went to see it because I was curious to see whether they’d done better with a second whack at the material.  I had a very similar experience with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.  I like Tom Cruise and love Christopher McQuarrie, and the two made a terrific Mission: Impossible movie together, but their collaboration on the first Jack Reacher film was somewhat disappointing to me.  It’s a perfectly fine film, just dour and without anything particularly memorable in it (other than Werner Herzog’s perfectly gonzo turn as the bad guy).  Although the film was clearly intended to be the start of a franchise, I never actually expected to see a sequel get made.  When Never Go Back was released, I was curious to see how they did with another attempt at the material.  The film was reviewed poorly and left theaters quickly before I ever had a chance to see it, but I remained interested in giving it a go and finally found the time to watch it a few weeks ago.

In the film, we see that the former military policeman, now drifter and good-deeds-doer Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) has established an over-the-phone friendship with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who holds Reacher’s former position.  The loner Reacher returns to Washington, DC, with the intention of finally meeting Major Turner in the face and taking her out to dinner, but he arrives just in time to discover that she’s been arrested for espionage, and a plot is afoot to murder her in prison.  So he breaks her out and the two go on the run together, along with a young girl named Sam (Danika Yarosh), who is also in danger because her mother recently submitted a paternity suit to the military, claiming Reacher is her father.  (Because of this apparent connection to Reacher, the bad guys want to kill her to get to him.)

Oy vey.  I can see why this film did not make much of a mark when it was released last year.

I like the basic idea of pairing Jack Reacher up with a female fellow officer who is just as tough as he is.  Rather than his being worlds tougher and smarter than everyone else around him, as he was in the first movie, it’s a strong idea to match him up with someone who is his equal, and a female at that.  And I happen to think Cobie Smulders is terrific, and I was excited to see her in this major leading role.

Unfortunately, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is even more painfully generic and forgettable than the first film.  That film at least knew what it wanted to be: a tough, dark action/mystery.  It was more dour than was my taste, but writer/director Christopher McQuarrie seemed to have a strong command of the material.  This sequel, written by Marshall Herskovitz, Richard Wenk, and Edward Zwick, and directed by Mr. Zwick, dials down on the unrelenting grimness — an idea of which I approve in theory — but winds up creating a generic film aiming to appear to all four audience quadrants but without any real style or identity.

The pairing of Reacher and Major Turner goes nowhere.  There’s no heat, no sexiness to their pairing.  They just immediately fall into a platonic “let’s get the job done and stop the bad guys” partnership.  There’s no romantic tension nor anything approaching interesting banter.  (Both characters speak in terse, directly-to-the-point sentences, which fits their characters but winds up being very boring.)  We see Major Turner hold her own in a fight with an assassin in a restaurant kitchen early in the movie, which was great, but that’s pretty much the last time her character contributes much of anything to the story.  Tom Cruise, meanwhile, who is actually a better actor than he needs to be as a beautiful movie star, seems like someone dared him to be as somber as he could possibly be in every single scene.  Gone is his movie-star ten thousand watt smile, instead we just get a scowl for the entire film, and it gets old fast.

The film’s second major story-line, in which Reacher discovers that he might be a father to a teenage girl and then has to protect her as they go on the run together, is weak in the extreme.  Ms. Yarosh is a fine actress and gives her best to the role of Sam, but this whole story-line was of zero interest to me.  This attempt to turn antisocial loner Jack Reacher into a dad, and turn the film into a story of a makeshift family on the run (with Reacher, Major Turner, and young Sam as the “wacky” threesome) was a bad idea, executed poorly.  The whole thing is half-baked, coasting on familiar beats we’ve all seen before.  The film didn’t make me care about these relationships or surprise me in any way as they unfolded.

Edward Zwick directed Glory, an amazing film.  He also directed Courage Under Fire and The Siege, two films I haven’t seen in about two decades but which I remember as being strong.  He previously collaborated with Tom Cruise on The Last Samurai, a film that I found to be rather uninteresting and unsuccessful, and sadly Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is not an improvement.  By the way, what’s the story with this film’s generic, meaningless subtitle?  The phrase Never Go Back has absolutely no connection with the story of the film.  I am aware that Lee Child wrote a Jack Reacher novel called Never Go Back, on which this film is apparently based.  I haven’t read the book, but I assume that in the book the title bears some connection to the story being told.  Not so in the film, for which the bland, meaningless subtitle is unfortunately emblematic of the entire undertaking.

There is nothing in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back that is actively bad or unbearably stupid.  It’s just that the film is disappointingly mediocre.  Oh well.

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