Jack Reacher is a movie you need to watch if you can’t get enough Tom Cruise in your life. Even though pretty much any other Tom Cruise movie ever made will be more satisfying.

Given the slow decline of both his box office clout and esteem as an actor since the turn of the millennium, this group of Cruisers is in dangerously low supply here in the 20-teens. The only other people I can imagine selecting this movie for their viewing pleasure are those who just need some cozy comfort food – this is the adequate, unfulfilling yet hunger-tempering TV dinner of motion picture meals, or potential blockbuster franchises. It’s got some freezer burn but it does kinda remind you of the flavor of country fried steak, so just eat it and pretend you’re happy and hope for better days.

Oh wait, I forgot that it’s based on a character from 18 novels in a bestselling book series dating back to 1997. That might be another reason people would go ape for this movie, although it leveled out at roughly the equivalent to other recent bestseller adaptations like every Nicholas Sparks movie, every James Patterson movie, the Americanized Stiegg Larson, and, presumably, Glenn Beck’s The Christmas Sweater, which…it’s only a matter of time. In other words, either the Lee Child brand-name or the magic of Tom’s Dorian Gray complex kept Jack Reacher from outright failure, but the movie has already been long forgotten, its sequels sent off to live with Godzilla ’98 Pt. 2 and The Continued Adventures of Lemony Snicket, and the franchise put in cryogenic stasis until its 2021 reboot.

Why the focus on its financial turn-out? Well, what else am I gonna talk; this movie sucks, but not with attention-grabbing pizazz. It’s pure mediocrity. Opinions vary wildly, but discounting his small part in Lions for Lambs and if you stop being a douche bag and admit that Rock of Ages was as nostalgically endearing as it was clunky and dumb, this might be the worst Tom Cruise film since Days of Thunder 22 years ago. The one connection? Robert Duvall. I dunno, man, maybe if you’d just let them pay Pacino more and agreed to The Godfather Part III that year, they would’ve written a better script for that movie, you wouldn’t have had time for Days of Thunder and maybe Tom Cruise wouldn’t have sought you out for this piece of crap. You wouldn’t look like the curse of Tom Cruise projects. Eh, but they would’ve just gotten someone like James Caan or Brian Dennehy instead. Some great aging actor had to play the ornery rifle range instructor -cum- sniper sidekick comic relief. Didn’t have to be you, though, Duvall.

Jack ReacherBut seriously, let’s go over it. I’m a movie lover and a completist but not a push-over; still, I gotta hand it to Cruise – maybe he’s brainwashed by a cult, maybe he’s narcissitic (how could you not be with his life, though?), maybe he’s doomed to play Tom Cruise in every movie rather than offer a fresh, challenging performance, and maybe everybody’s tired of that after 30 long years of him headlining one big movie event after another – but the motherfucker has very good taste in projects. The only other real movie star with that same kind of major consistency and ability to dodge turkeys is Leonardo DiCaprio. Maybe they should do a movie together. Cruise’s filmography isn’t wall-to-wall classics, but at least after Top Gun on a Race Track, each film has been strongly made, highly entertaining, and replete with talent that is often put to proper use. Yes, even Knight of Day. C’mon, watch it again (or probably for the first time). It’s underrated.

So it’s alarming that he’s finally lived down to the nefarious stigma of being Tom Cruise – Jack Reacher is actually a good reason to be sick of him, to roll your eyes at his unbridled arrogance, to say he’s past his prime and jeez doesn’t he ever just go away?? I mean, I don’t think he himself deserves those attacks, but I wouldn’t object if I heard them this time around. In the absence of decent surrounding material, the 2-hour-long handjobbing of Tom Cruise that commonly occurs in his films becomes a front-and-center unavoidable awkwardness. And really, this is bad material for a movie. Maybe it’s an excellent novel that just got mangled in translation; from the looks of it, though, it just reminded me of yet another boilerplate murder mystery with low-tension action sequences (fist fights, car chases, infiltrating the big bad’s lair by taking down his henchmen one at a time; your standard ’80s checklist, brought to you 20+ years later sans upgrade). It brought to mind the Alex Cross movies where Morgan Freeman has to figure out which one of his small group of co-stars is the surprise villain, but rather than a delightful drawing room whodunnit, Poirot-style, we slog through 2 hours of slowly gathering clues with cutaways to watch the bad guy menace folks and possibly take Morgan’s friend hostage at the end. See also John Travolta’s The General’s Daughter, and hundreds of other movies, frankly. Jack Reacher follows this pattern as faithfully as you would expect the 7th book in a bestselling detective fiction series to. If it were a sharp, intriguing, nuanced, effectively executed exercise, its Xerox’d premise would be easily forgiven. It is none of those things, however. The script spends more time dreaming up outlandish, ungainly, regularly embarrassing ways for Jack Cruise to trash talk his enemies than it does refining a worthwhile story or wondering if its characters need more than a single motive to define their whole existences. There’s a horrible, horrible taunting session at a diner that ought to have won the 2012 Razzie for Worst Dialogue in a Movie, and yes, I saw Ghost Rider 2, Dark Shadows, Oliver Stone’s Savages, and The Expendables 2. I haven’t seen Parental Guidance or The Paperboy, though. Attempts to mythologize Tom Reacher are what this movie is all about – look, it’s fun to strut the hero around in action flicks, everyone likes a guy who kicks everyone’s ass, who outsmarts the whole room, who’s a winner. Yet these days especially we also like our heroes flawed and vulnerable, of course, so at first I was surprised that no one ever gets the best of this guy…until I realized the real cog in the machinery here: this is disposable paperback detective fiction masquerading as a big crowd-pleasing blockbuster, despite the two being mutually exclusive.

My mom reads a lot of light mystery series – authors like Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts, J.D. Robb, Mary Higgins Clark, and so on – and she also watches the whole spectrum of straightforward, often bland, and mostly CBS-based procedural TV shows – Law & Orders and CSIs, Criminal Minds, NCIS (and JAG before that), whatever sassy B-list actress is headlining a TNT law enforcement ensemble. If there were a Venn diagram for these areas of entertainment, it wouldn’t even exist because you would be looking at one complete circle. This is the audience for something like Jack Reacher – they want something undemanding, with moderate suspense, a reliable structure of puzzle-solving, and an amiable cast, and they want it over and over again forever. That’s exactly what the plot, the writing, the directing, the characters, and the acting are offering from this movie. It’s just weird that it’s packaged to the more adrenalized, possibly more discerning (or at the very least more ADD-addled) mass audience who will see right through this corny endeavor. They should’ve adapted Jack Reacher to the small screen instead, re-cast Tom with some undistinguished middle-aged pseudo-celebrity (Emilio Estevez?!) (I was also thinking John Cusack – think about everything he’s been in since the early aughts – does he really need to be in movies anymore?), surround him with a drab gang of D-listers (which couldn’t be much worse than who they inexplicably hired for this expensive tentpole release, worst of all Rosamund Pike) and kablammo, you have a decade of profitable prime time real estate. Don’t waste Tom Cruise’s time.

Oh, or Werner Herzog’s either! I almost forgot about him, naturally, as he occupies roughly 9 minutes of screen time as the head bad guy. Knowingly or not, Herzog capitalizes on his current stage of fame as the hilariously, endearingly eccentric movie veteran-slash-freaky weirdo (Christopher Walken had the same moment in the sun about 10-12 years ago). Yes, he’s supposed to play a shadowy figure, but even so he seems extra displeased to be on camera, his eyes a droopy squint, his mannerism even more minimalistic and sinister than usual. As you might guess, he’s the only silver lining to this picture. The two scenes where he gets the spotlight are creepy, funny, and mesmerizing all because of him. It’s a cliche when critics say “I could watch this guy read the phone book for 2 hours” or whatever, and honestly, I wouldn’t want to watch Werner Herzog list names and numbers from a phone book, not even for a few minutes. But I would sincerely like to watch him in an expanded capacity as an actor, not just as himself. Well, basically himself, since that’s what so great about him. I don’t know if it would be as special if he were deliberately hamming it up. But doing his Werner Herzog routine as the lead in a movie – God knows what the premise would have to be to justify him as a protagonist – I would mark that release on the calendar. Tom Cruise, you’re still one of the few surviving movie stars and rightly so (also you rebounded with Oblivion just a couple months later, high-five!), but c’mon, if we learned anything here, it’s no more movies with Robert Duvall, okay? That guy is the worst.


Aww, can't stay mad at you!

Aww, can’t stay mad at you!

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