Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back"



One thing I appreciated about “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is that action scenes existed within the realm of the possible. Sure, Tom Cruise’s ex-Army officer can dish out the chop-socky with the best of the Bournes and Bonds.

But when he gets hit, it staggers him. Blows leave marks; his face swells up and stays puffy.

I’m not sure how many moviegoers have ever been punched in the face. I have, once, in second grade. It was a bigger kid, but even fourth graders don’t pack all that much in a swing. Still, I went down, hard. That’s what actual people do when punched straight-on.

It helps make Reacher seem more relatable. Especially when he does things that border on super-human, like luring four bad guys into a factory so he can take them out, unarmed --  but not before the prerequisite taunting and quipping.

“Jack Reacher” is a straightforward bubblegum action flick. It does not pretend to be more than it is. If it’s important for humans to know thyself, then that goes doubles for movies. Most of the bad ones are trying to be something they’re not, or haven’t figured out what they are.

Director Edward Zwick, who co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz (based on the book by Lee Child), takes over for Christopher McQuarrie. His action scenes may not have the same zip – it’s not hard to spot Cruise’s stunt double -- but the narrative has a little more cohesion.

Reacher retired from the military a few years ago to wander the land with nothing more than the clothes on his back and his military pension to pay for some scuzzy motels. He lends a hand wherever he can, especially when do-gooders are being rousted by no-good-doers.

His contact back in D.C. is Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who took over his old job heading up the military investigations unit. After years of phone flirting, they resolve to have a date in-person. But when Reacher shows up, he learns she’s been arrested for espionage. Soon enough, he’s implicated too.

The rest of the movie is a series of chases, with our pair trying to stay ahead of some ex-military contractors named ParaSource, while simultaneously trying to pin the crimes on them. A trail of bodies soon grows.

Complicating things is 15-year-old Samantha (fresh-faced Danika Yarosh), who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter. It doesn’t really matter if it’s true, since if she’s being used as leverage against Reacher, he figures he has to protect her anyway. Not exactly the paternal type, he’s kind of baffled by the vagaries of teendom.

Rounding out the cast are Robert Knepper as a sinister general, Aldis Hodge as the straight man following orders to a fault, and Patrick Heusinger as Reacher’s dark twin -- a similarly skilled operative but without the moral code.

The movie’s a showcase for Cruise, as are pretty much all of his movies these days. He’s 54 now and finally starting to show it. His face has gotten some new crevices and hollows, and he wears it well. He looks like a guy who’s gotten beat up a lot, and dished out even more. His body is toned as always, but no matter how many crunches and cardio you do, at a certain point things start to droop and spread out.

It all works. Twenty years ago we wouldn’t have bought Tom Cruise as a burnt-out loner. But now Jack Reacher fits him like a glove.




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