Tom Cruise may be an A-list action star, but the Jack Reacher films are beginning to feel like the B-movies of his career.
The movies based on Lee Child's paperbacks come off like a generic grocery-store version of his better genre work in Edge of Tomorrow or the Mission: Impossible series, a comparison that might feel cheaper if Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie hadn't literally moved on to make Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. If the Mission: Impossible movies are spectacles built for the big screen, the Jack Reacher films seem destined to be half-watched on FX on a Sunday afternoon.
Still, there was enough value in the first Jack Reacher that it seemed like something good could've been made of the series. Yet followup Jack Reacher: Never Go Back descends even further into forgettableness, suggesting the movie should've followed the advice of its own title.
Since the last film, Reacher has made friends with Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). He comes to visit her, only to learn she's been arrested on charges of espionage.
It's not long before Turner's lawyer winds up dead and Reacher finds himself accused of murder. After breaking himself and Turner out of military prison, the two hit the road to uncover the conspiracy behind their false charges. Adding a further complication is a teen and possible daughter of Reacher (Danika Yarosh), who tags along when she becomes a target too.
Jack Reacher wasn't a great movie, but at least it had capable action scenes and the occasional idiosyncratic touch like casting Werner Herzog as the villain. (The German director has expressed interest in playing a Bond bad guy, with that turn acting as a sort of audition.)
For the sequel, McQuarrie's spot is filled by Edward Zwick, director of Oscar winners and nominees Glory, Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai with Cruise. It seems like an attempt to bring some prestige flair to pulpy genre trappings, as Sam Mendes and Paul Greengrass did for the Bond and Bourne series.
Yet Jack Reacher: Never Go Back feels even generic than its predecessor, with a villain as memorable as his name ("the Hunter," played by Patrick Heusinger). There's not even much action until a climactic New Orleans Halloween parade scene finally picks up the pace, instead focusing on a government conspiracy plot that's been done far better in far better films.
It does fix one flaw from the original, making Reacher less of an unlikable jerk. He's also paired with a capable woman co-lead akin to Rebecca Ferguson's character in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, though Smulders doesn't reach those heights.
Unfortunately, it also tries to humanize him by halting the action for several scenes depicting the surrogate family created between Reacher, Turner and his possible daughter. And when the movie makes a stab for pathos at the end of the film, it feels totally unearned.
Maybe the problem is with Reacher himself — a loner, a rebel, a super-specialist who can outsmart anyone and beat down four guys at once but is also an everyman who eats at unremarkable diners and hitchhikes. With such a cliched cipher at the center of these films, perhaps it's inevitable the movies struggle to develop a personality as well.
October is supposed to be when awards season kicks into full gear and there are finally films for adults. But between The Girl on the Train, The Accountant and now this (as well as the not promising-looking Dan Brown adaptation Inferno), mostly this year it has proved that a film being for adults doesn't necessarily mean it's good.
Contact Jimmy Geurts at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3402. Follow @JimmyGeurts.