As a film critic you go into films with a blank slate—a white-balanced sheet expected to receive an impasto of elements—in this case writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise. But, with Cruise’s rash of octane thrillers usually filling me with the joyous artifacts of action-cinema, I came into Jack Reacher with nothing but the best of expectations. I was wrong to do so.
Jack Reacher is a film about an ex-super military man who’s all but vanished from the military’s radar—you know the adage, he’s a “ghost”—and yet when a military sniper goes on a shooting spree, Mr. Reacher comes back from the bowels of his self-imposed exile to piece together the mysterious elements of the event using his super-sleuth skills and supreme fighting techniques.
There’s a sub-plot in here, as to Reacher’s involvement with the shooting itself. There are mysterious G-men whose dalliances you call into question. There’s a heroine who backs Reacher’s involvement in the investigation despite Reacher’s misogynistic tendencies. This is all standard fare. And, that’s just what’s wrong with the film: it’s standard fare.
But, that’s putting it lightly. This is substandard fare. Arguably Cruise’s best action effort is Mission Impossible III. It had all the elements of a great action film. Exciting stunt sequences, a villainous antagonist who’s evil was palpable and able to expose the vulnerabilities of our hero, an anxious subplot concerning revenge—it was a magnificent piece of action cinema.
This film has none of that. It’s a caricature of action-cinema. A made for TV film that plays out like an extended episode of Burn Notice. The antagonist in Jack Reacher, played by Warner Herzog, never once imbues us with the kind of dangerous pervasiveness that’s necessary to establish the spiky roadblock our hero must surpass. The action scenes are sub-par at best, and never once exude an exhilarate experience that’s come to be a staple in Cruise films.
Jack Reacher is such an amalgamation of over-baked testosterone cake that never once do we feel he’s in danger, even when in the final sequence—a sequence I found myself yawning through—he actually brings a hunting knife to a gunfight. If this film was made to be a joke, then it succeeded immensely.
As for Cruise’s performance, he sleepwalks through it; providing stone-jawed threats that I found myself laughing at not for the cleverness of it, but for the sheer ridiculous of it’s overly-macho terseness.
The clichés in this film come in droves. There’s even a mentor-like character, played by the always-welcome Robert Duvall, who laughs his way through the film’s final sequence as he disposes of baddies despite his obvious difficulties even seeing the battlefield with his poor vision.
The heel turn—which you can see coming from a mile away—is also an exercise in what not to do in a film that is a shell of what an action film should be. Reacher is a one-dimensional character with seemingly no weaknesses and never once do we even understand his motives for involving himself in this fiasco of government conspiracies and senseless killings.
Christopher McQuarrie and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel paint the film with a deep and dark palette, providing the film with some nice aesthetics, but it’s too late. This overtly masculine mash-up of soulless action is like a coagulated protein shake that just won’t go down easily.