Jack Reacher Sequel Never Hits Hard Enough
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is still wandering America, righting wrongs where he sees them but otherwise doing his best to live off the grid. After a job involving a corrupt sheriff puts the former Army Major back in contact with the Pentagon, most notably his successor with the military police, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), something compels him to return to Washington, D.C. and check in. Not to get back involved, mind you, he’s done with the armed forces, but to just take a look, maybe even take Major Turner out to dinner and see what else might transpire at the end of the night.
Things don’t turn out as expected. Not only does Reacher learn that Major Turner has been arrested for espionage, he also is handed a document stating he might be the father of a teenage hellion named Samantha (Danika Yarosh). Worse, there’s a conspiracy taking place inside the government that seems to think he knows more about what is going on than he actually does, all of which makes the former serviceman all kinds of mad. Now, not only will he prove Major Turner is innocent, he’ll also protect Samantha from harm while also ascertaining the identities of those trying to get him swept up inside all of this chaos, delivering his own brand of justice in the process.
I liked 2012’s Jack Reacher, liked it a lot. Based on the book One Shot by Lee Child, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the movie was an old school action throwback, a cross between Bullitt with Steve McQueen and any number of Walter Hill barnburners like The Driver, 48Hrs. or Extreme Prejudice. It had a kinetically pugnacious quality I loved, and with a memorably sinister turn from Werner Herzog as the villain and a terrific star turn by Cruise the movie worked for me, and I have happily watched it a good half-dozen times since its original theatrical release.
Based on the 18th book in Child’s seemingly never-ending series revolving around the character, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has much to admire. Sadly, it has maybe even more to be disappointed with, the film living up to its title for all the wrong reasons. While Cruise still commands the screen, while there are a number of crackerjack fight sequences that got my pulse racing and kept my eyes glued to the screen, the plot itself is wildly silly, overly convoluted and strangely melodramatic. The sequel never settles on a consistent tone, bumbling and stumbling its way from here to there, its faceless villains popping up occasionally to spout nonsensical platitudes that only prove how stupid they are and how insane it is they ever met with success in the first place.
This is kind of surprising, not only because I found the first film to be so gosh darn entertaining. Picking up the reins from McQuarrie (who stays on to produce) is none other than esteemed veteran Edward Zwick. Not only has he directed a pair of bona fide classics in Glory and Courage Under Fire, he’s also seen moderate success with Cruise, the pair teaming up back in 2003 for The Last Samurai. Since then his career has had its ups (Pawn Sacrifice, Blood Diamond), downs (Defiance) and in-betweens (Love & Other Drugs), but through it all his skills as a cinematic craftsman have never been in doubt, his films having a notable old Hollywood polish that’s laudable. Yet this time there are a number of colossal missteps that get more egregious as things move along, resulting in an unstable narrative that’s impossible to become immersed in no matter how strong a smattering of elements might prove to be.
Not that Zwick doesn’t know how to stage an action sequence. There are a number of tremendous chases and escapes, each close call reminding me why it was I liked the first film and was okay with Cruise taking on the character (even if Child’s physical description of Reacher in the books looks nothing like the actor portraying him). It should also be said that the director suitably saves the best for last; a final chase through the streets of New Orleans culminating in a rooftop battle royale downright spectacular.
It’s getting to that point that is the problem. Granted, it’s one that exists in Childs’ book as well, only to a much lesser degree. The addition of a teenager into Reacher’s world isn’t a terrible idea, but that doesn’t make it a great one, either. Zwick, rewriting Richard Wenk’s (The Equalizer) version of the script with frequent collaborator and fellow “Thirtysomething” creator Marshall Herskovitz, never knows what to do with Samantha, using her like a walking cliché and not a fully formed human being, and as such there are points where things frankly fall apart. The film stalls out in moments of emotionally blasé treacle that feels inelegantly forced into the proceedings. More, he’s prone to expository twaddle, characters randomly sprouting up out of nowhere to explain what is going on even though the viewer has done a perfectly good job figuring out the necessary pieces of information all on their own.
I like Cruise as the character, and I can’t say I found Jack Reacher: Never Go Back to be a complete waste of time. But the way it never develops any consistent momentum, the scenes where it presents Major Turner to be a strong, intelligent character only to unceremoniously toss her aside so the titular character can save the day, all of it just gets more and more obnoxiously annoying as things progress. For all its strengths, the sequel’s ability to entertain from start to finish isn’t one of them, and if Cruise decides to use his still massive influence to bring Reacher back for a third adventure, here’s hoping he returns the series to its belligerent roots and leaves the melodramatic gibberish on the cutting room floor where it belongs.
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)