The new thriller Jack Reacher features Tom Cruise and a parade of dead-on performances by a commendable supporting cast, but this parade has been around the block too many times to spark much interest. Usually a keen judge of scripts, Cruise (who also produced this movie) settles for a rehash of storylines that were retreads when he started acting. Such resurrections can succeed if they entail an original reimagining or are so fast-paced (read “nonstop action à la Taken”) that one doesn’t have time to groan at the familiar before something new explodes on the screen.
Unfortunately, Jack Reacher fails to stay even one step ahead of us. Not only is the audience able to predict the outcome of the current scene, but we are often several scenes ahead and impatiently waiting as the story lingers in the present.
Comparisons are readily drawn to the current crop of taut TV dramas that run at a brisk pace to avoid channel changing by today’s dramaturgically sophisticated audiences. If Cruise and company decline to challenge the audience intellectually to keep it immersed in the story, they at least had better keep their dog and pony show galloping along so our senses are stimulated enough to ride this pony to the end.
The film opens with a serial killer sequence that seems lifted from the original 1971 Dirty Harry, then slides into a drawn-out “grand mystery” that most in the audience will figure out during the opening shots—a hoary premise classically rendered in 1973’s The Laughing Policeman (Walter Matthau), which was adapted from an even earlier book. After that “mystery” is solved, the viewer is required to wonder at the identity of a secret betrayer and whether he will turn out to be the obvious suspect or the other guy. I’ll leave that nail-biter to you.
The great disappointment of Jack Reacher is not the laziness of its creators but the promise unfulfilled it represents. Tom Cruise has demonstrated time and again he can birth films of mesmerizing merit (compare his stand-out thriller Collateral). The failure to deliver on his previous level of quality is what is truly disheartening. Evidently, it was one mission that proved impossible.