Review: ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’

Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher. He’s not the Jack Reacher that fans of Lee Child’s best-selling series of novels picture, that’s for sure. But there’s no reason why the two can’t co-exist. Just because the novel Reacher is around six-foot-five and weighs 250 pounds does not mean he can’t be portrayed by an actor who is five-seven and is a shade under 170. Especially when that actor is Tom Cruise, one of the few bonafide name stars left in Hollywood with fans the world over. This is why a sequel to 2012’s Jack Reacher was even possible; foreign earnings pushed the action-thriller to a global sum of $218 million.

The great thing about the Reacher novels is that you can pretty much jump in and out of the series and not miss much. In fact, the first Jack Reacher movie is based around the ninth novel (One Shot). Never Go Back is the title of the eighteenth Reacher novel. So if you have memory-wiped the first movie, all you need to know is that while the supporting players have changed, Cruise is back playing the same ex-Army major now drifter.

Sadly, it seems this sequel was made for the foreign market, and maybe those action fans that flock like sheep to theaters to get their fix. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is not a throwback to 1970s tough guy action like some would lead you to believe. It’s more like an 1990s action movie. Hardly a ringing endorsement. Just-okay action with stale dialogue and Grand Canyon leaps in logic does not make for quality entertainment. It feels cheaply made, too. Like a TV movie with a big name star attached. Actually, this franchise would probably be better as a small screen production (think The Fugitive). And poor Edward Zwick. The man who helmed the likes of Glory, The Legends of the Fall, and Blood Diamond is out of his element. This seems like Cruise called in a you-owe-me-one favor (the two did The Last Samurai together) when original writer-director Christopher McQuarrie had to bow out.

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Tom Cruise is definitely playing for his international fans with this one. Nowadays it seems the actor is in cruise control mode, gravitating to science-fiction (Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow) in between Mission: Impossible movies. And with a reboot of The Mummy in the works, I guess we’ll never see Cruise stretch his acting talents like he did playing against his pretty boy looks as Frank T.J. Mackey in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

Never Go Back also stumbles into a plot device that has befell a number of sequels: it adds a kid. Just like The Mummy Returns or The Legend of Zorro, we get saddled with a side character that gives way to unnecessary cringe-worthy exchanges. Credit that to the screenwriters. From Richard Wenk’s original screenplay to the rewrites done by Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (the creator of TV’s Thirtysomething, really?), there is a lack of coherence. I picture Reacher as a man who lets his actions speak for themselves. Maybe he has softened up like ice cream in the books but make me care when showing it on screen.

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Now to the story. An inauspicious opening with Reacher in a cafe and four men sprawled outside leads to the stoic ex-Army major building a flirtatious relationship over the phone with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who he’s been helping clear cases involving corrupt law enforcement officers. When he decides to pay her a visit in D.C. he discovers she’s been thrown in prison for espionage. Poking his nose by asking a few too many questions finds Reacher in trouble. Knowing he can only trust Major Turner, he breaks her out and the two try to unravel the conspiracy behind her arrest. Oh, and Reacher gets framed for murder, is being tracked by an unnamed assassin (listed as “The Hunter” in the credits), and he may have fathered a kid. Talk about a full plate.

I will say this about the original Jack Reacher. It moved like a Detroit muscle car with polished chrome and accessories. Those accessories was an impressive-on-paper supporting cast. Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Jai Courtney (aka poor man’s Tom Hardy), Robert Duvall, and Werner Herzog as the villain. We get none of that here. Cobie Smulders looks like she took her character from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and walked into Never Go Back. Patrick Heusinger as the assassin is standard variety, but at least he isn’t some “European Guy” out to stop Reacher. A nice, U.S. born mercenary who can match Reacher physically but lacks proper intelligence. Just like this cash grab sequel. Tom, do us a favor and never go back to this franchise.

Score: 3/10

Director: Edward Zwick
Writer: Richard Wenk & Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Patrick Heusinger, Aldis Hodge
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements)
Running Time: 118 minutes

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