Thursday, December 20, 2012
Review: "Jack Reacher"
From what I understand, "Jack Reacher" is based on a series of books by Lee Child about a wandering ex-military badass who roams the countryside meting out justice with only the clothes on his back and a toothbrush to his name. Tom Cruise, handsome as ever after recently turning 50, looks like Reacher also has a small army of makeup artists and stylists to give him just the right zhuzh before every fight scene.
He's so smiley and smirky, he practically twinkles. It's one of those movies where whenever the hero walks into a room, every female stops what she's doing to stare at him, like a ribeye being waggled at the pack of solves from "The Grey."
It's a nice action star vehicle for Cruise, though the storytelling is often stolid to the point of stiffness. It plays out like a TV crime procedural with regular interruptions for combat, gradually ratcheting upward from hand-to-hand to assault rifles.
Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote and directed the adaptation, takes his own good time getting things rolling. But once the action gets pushed into high gear roughly midway through, it's a fast-paced thrill ride the rest of the way.
The story's a little zany and not particularly coherent. An ex-Army sniper named James Barr (Joseph Sikora) appears to suddenly snap one day and randomly shoot five strangers in front of the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium. A sharp local police detective named Emerson (David Oyelowo) manages to put the pieces together, including recovering a quarter with Barr's fingerprint out of a parking meter, and makes the arrest.
Before he's attacked by other prisoners and conveniently put into a coma, Barr scribbles "Find Jack Reacher" as his supposed confession.
Reacher, we soon learn, is a ghost. A top military policeman, he suddenly resigned after 20 years in the Army to roam the land, like Caine sans kung fu. He has no fixed address, owns no possessions other than his clothes and a few incidentals, and apparently gets by using his military pension for bus tickets and cheap hotel rooms.
There's a great scene where Emerson and his boss, District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins), are discussing the mystery of Reacher. Usually in these sorts of movies we would immediately cut to a cool intro where we meet the guy they've been talking about doing something astonishingly cool. Instead, Reacher himself walks in the door right at that moment, offering his services.
He gets the brush-off, but Rodin's daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike), who's been appointed as the shooter's attorney, lures him in. It turns out Reacher investigated Barr a few years ago when they were both in the service, but couldn't quite pin the crime on him.
Now he wants a second crack ... until events reveal that Barr may not have been the assassin after all.
It's all confusing and uneven, having something to do with a mercenary corporation that moves from town to town, sucking up government contracts via bribes and intimidation. Soon you learn to stop worrying about the story and just enjoy watching Reacher dispatch his foes with cool, collected aplomb.
Werner Herzog, the great German movie director, turns up as an enigmatic baddy with only a single eye and only slightly more fingers. Herzog is a hoot relating the story of how he lost them, managing to be both goofy and chilling at the same moment. It's like a parody of an action-movie villain, and yet totally effective.
The action scenes are crisply edited, particularly a standout car chase sequence where Reacher is pursuing the bad guys, while in turn the police are pursuing him. As is obligatory in movies of this ilk, Reacher acquires a classic muscle car and then proceeds to slowly destroy it.
The final showdown at a mine pit is similarly well-executed, where Reacher gets an assist from an old Marine sergeant played by Robert Duvall. He and Cruise have a giddy repartee, and the pairing is winning.
I wish I could say the same for Pike, who spends the entire movie wearing a slightly startled expression, as if she can't believe she's starring in a movie with Tom Cruise.
"Jack Reacher" is kind of a trashy movie with A-list stars and production values. It ain't any great shakes, but for what it is, it does it effectively.
2.5 stars out of four