Review - Jack Reacher: Never Go Back: Fighting talk from an old action hand
Tom Cruise's charisma keeps this plodding action sequel ticking over
Now 54, his face seemingly frozen in aspic, Tom Cruise has grown selective in his movie appearances, but still prefers an action vehicle to anything else. The 'Mission Impossible's come and go, and he's made a couple of decent sci-fi movies of late, but the quietly spoken action hero is his character of comfort these days, and Jack Reacher definitely fits that bill. He's the creation of English crime writer Lee Childs, who's knocked out 20 novels based on his exploits, and Mr Cruise first played the wandering ex-soldier back in 2012.
Purists were not uniformly happy about his casting, however: Reacher, an ex-military policeman with formidable fighting skills and a Solomon-like attitude to justice, is described in the books as an imposing, six-foot-five, 230-pound man mountain.
Tom, on his best day, stands five-foot-seven, and one worries for his safety whenever he gets cornered by gangs of armed and dangerous men (in this sequel that happens early, and often). One really shouldn't though, because whether or not Tom is big enough to be Reacher is rather beside the point: the real question is can he still convince as an action man? Overall, he can.
As Never Go Back opens, Jack Reacher has been covertly helping an army major called Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) to root out corruption in the armed forces and police, but they've never actually met, so he decides to go to Washington to say hello. When he arrives at Turner's office he's politely told that she's been arrested, and advised to leave well enough alone. But Jack, who seems to live for trouble, decides to dig deeper, and quickly smells a rat.
Turner's been accused of espionage, treason, and involvement in the deaths of two US military personnel who were executed in Iraq. But that doesn't square with the person Reacher dealt with, and he browbeats her lawyer, an Army hack, into mounting a proper defence.
When the lawyer is murdered, Jack realises Turner's life is in danger and breaks her out of military prison. They go on the run, pursued by a group of corrupt army officers who don't want their murderous smuggling empire to collapse.
To complicate matters, Jack finds out that a paternity suit has been lodged against him by an old girlfriend who claims that her teenage daughter Samantha (Danika Yarosh) is his. He's not convinced at first, but when the baddies find out about her she becomes a target as well, so Reacher is forced to bring this wilful and spirited young woman along for the ride. And the more he gets to know Sam, the more she reminds him of himself.
I quite liked the first Jack Reacher film, a pretty tight thriller with a simple plot and a decent balance between action and atmosphere. This sequel isn't quite as good but is perfectly watchable, thanks in the main to Cruise.
Though otherwise a man of few words, Reacher has the habit of sportingly trying to dissuade attackers from making the big mistake of taking him on. "You don't have to do this", he tends to say quietly, before knocking seven bells out of them.
You can't say fairer than that, and years of work on the 'Mission Impossible' films has turned Tom into a very accomplished stage fighter. He remains a hugely charismatic performer, well capable of finding what humour there is in this script, though I think there's not nearly enough.
Edward Zwick's direction is a little humdrum at times, and a rather rushed conclusion feels like something plucked from an episode of 'The A-Team', but Cruise always keeps you interested, just about. The rather lifeless chemistry between he and Cobie Smulders has less to do with the actors themselves than the moribund screenplay, but the thing that really prevents Never Go Back from properly taking off as a thriller is the absence of a single, satisfyingly dislikeable villain.
It's a thriller full of holes, but oddly enjoyable nonetheless: whether we get to see more of Reacher will very much depend on the box office.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Films coming soon...
Doctor Strange (Tilda Swinton, Benedict Cumberbatch); Keeping Up With the Joneses (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Zach Galifianakis); Train to Busan (Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok); Lo and Behold (Werner Herzog); The Wild Goose Lodge (Dave Duffy, Joe Rooney).