Here’s my general rule of thumb when it comes to Tom Cruise movies:
If he’s running around a lot or doing stunts, I’ll probably like it; if he’s not, I probably won’t.
And if he’s singing anything other than “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” head for the hills. I’m still scarred from Rock of Ages.
Of course there are exceptions to these rules, but in general they have helped me navigate the Tom Cruise movie universe.
The thing is, I’m pretty sure that Tom Cruise is nuts. That is not to say that he isn’t a nice guy, but there is no doubt in my mind that under that million dollar smile there is a man that is cuckoo bananas. When he’s running around, scaling a building or fighting aliens/bad guys, I can forget that he’s off his rocker. When the movie is slower and I’m forced to really engage with Cruise as an actor, I am just unable to do so any more. The curtain has just been pulled too far back in recent years and if I’m not distracted by action, all I see is a Scientologist weirdo.
That being said, Jack Reacher had enough action that I was able to get over my Cruise issues and enjoy the film. It wasn’t great, but there were enough elements of the movie that I enjoyed that I didn’t hate it. Not worth going to the theater, but not a bad option for a rental.
Jack Reacher is based on a series of books by Lee Child (the pen name for author Jim Grant) that features the character. Reacher is a former US Army Military Police major who has become a drifter since leaving the Army. He uses the skills that he learned in the military, including his highly developed sense of observation and his skill at fighting. I have not ready any of the books, but I did know going into the movie that the character Jack Reacher in the books is described as being 6’5” and weighing close to 250 pounds, which doesn’t automatically shout “Tom Cruise” to me (was Jason Statham busy?), but I was willing to go with it. From what I’ve read on-line, the plot of the film Jack Reacher most closely follows the story in the 2005 novel One Shot, though that is not the first novel which Reacher makes an appearance.
When a sniper guns down several people in downtown Pittsburgh, it appears to be an open and shut case. The police have plenty of evidence to arrest James Barr, a former army sharpshooter, including his fingerprints at the scene. During questioning, Barr asks for Jack Reacher, who mysteriously rolls into town after hearing about the case on the news. After teaming up with the public defender (Rosamund Pike) that is trying to prevent Barr from receiving the death penalty, Reacher begins to suspect that there is more to this crime than meets the eye. Reacher sets out not to free Barr, but to uncover the truth.
Tom Cruise was perfectly serviceable as Reacher, despite his lack of physical resemblance to the character. Cruise knows his way around stunts and doesn’t look too out of place in car chases and street fights. He even occasionally looks like he is enjoying himself in the role, though most of the time he shows absolutely no emotion. I don’t know if this was to convey Reacher’s stoicism or if it was a problem with the script/direction or some combination of these elements, but it is sometimes off putting. Cruise’s performance really isn’t dark enough for what I imagine this character to be; based on the description of Reacher in the film, you would expect him to be much more rough around the edges while Cruise looks too much like the guy next door. Despite what they are trying to sell me, I never once believed that Reacher was dangerous; he would win the fights because he was scripted to do so. There is a heavy reliance on bad guys making stupid decisions that you would see in most action films of the 80s.
I thought Rosamund Pike was terrible as the public defender; I’m not familiar enough with her filmography to know if she is just not a great actress or if this was just a side effect of the terrible dialogue of the movie. All I know is that it wasn’t working to the point of being distracting. The movie is often funny, but not necessarily intentionally. The actors are forced to say some ridiculous and corny things and it is a testament to the restrain of all involved that they are able to deliver them with a straight face. Richard Jenkins and Robert Duvall are wasted in their parts, as both actors are capable of much more than they are allowed to do. I was excited when Michael Raymond-James made an appearance, as I like him quite a bit, but he wasn’t given much to do either. Werner Herzog steps out from behind the camera for some acting in Jack Reacher and his portrayal of The Zec is creepy, though the character is a problematic part of the plot.
However, the action sequences were very well done, though they were fewer and farther between than the trailer would lead you believe. There is a lot of talking in this film and much less gun play and fisticuffs. But when the action does occur it is well choreographed and executed. And despite the clunky screenplay, I did enjoy the story that the movie was telling (or trying to). It may not have been all that original, but it held my interest despite the rest of the film’s faults. It was convoluted in some parts, but despite the uneven execution it made me more interested in seeking out the books that the film was based on; it may turn out that the source material was part of the problem, but I’m curious to find out more about the character of Jack Reacher, even if I don’t necessarily want to see him played by Cruise.
Some other thoughts:
- It must have been written into everyone’s contract that every woman in this film had to make googly eyes at Cruise throughout the film. I don’t know if the guy needs an ego boost after his divorce or what, but it was ridiculous and not at all believable. Cruise is attractive, but I don’t believe that all women between the ages of 18 to 60 are throwing themselves at him. Sorry.
- I am really surprised that they didn’t hold the release of the film after the Newton shooting; Jack Reacher isn’t tremendously violent, but the opening images are of people being randomly gunned down. You couldn’t help but think about recent events during those scenes.
- I wonder how the Pittsburgh Pirates feel about their stadium being the backdrop for a sniper attack.
- OK – this really bothered me – I know it was five against one in this fight outside a bar, but aren’t cheap shots like punching/kicking a guy below the belt a big no-no?
There was a whole King of the Hill episode about this:
- As a Yankee fan, I couldn’t help but notice that Jack Reacher uses the names of Yankee 2nd basemen as his aliases throughout the movie (no love for Robbie Cano, though). Between this and the fact that Cruise inexplicably sports a Yankee cap in the trailer for his new movie Oblivion, I’m beginning to think that Cruise has a soft spot for the Bronx Bombers.
- This movie pulls off the difficult feat of both being too long and too underdeveloped. There is absolutely no way this movie should be over two hours (final run time: two hours and ten minutes), yet there are a lot of things that needed more development.
- The movie is directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects. Jack Reacher proves you can be really good at one thing and not very good at another.
- I imagine that Paramount was hoping that they had another franchise on their hands, but I don’t see Jack Reacher 2 happening any time soon.
It’s funny – before I started writing this review I thought that I liked Jack Reacher more than I actually did. I never thought it was fantastic, mind you, but writing this has forced me to think through my issues with the film and it turns out that I disliked far more than I actually enjoyed. However, I won’t say that Jack Reacher is a terrible movie; I don’t think it is worth your hard earned cash at the cinema, but it wasn’t unwatchable. It might be a fun rental, especially if you are a fan of unintentional comedy. There is plenty to mock in Jack Reacher.