Didn’t Paramount Pictures get the memo? The Cold War is over. As far as spy thrillers go, ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ reminds me of somebody shopping for an automobile. They walk on a car lot with their heart set on a Lexus and drive away in a Kia. The Kia has all the same movable parts but let’s face it, it’s not a Lexus. That’s the main problem with this reboot. It’s not a bad film; it just isn’t on the same level as Matt Damon’s ‘Bourne Identity’ or Tom Cruise’s ‘Mission Impossible.’ The new Jack Ryan spy thriller hands the baton over to Star Trek’s Chris Pine. He is a likable enough actor but it certainly is a daunting task especially since the story is not based on a Tom Clancy novel.
Pine follows in the footsteps of three actors that have already taken on the role of Jack Ryan. Alec Baldwin starred in 1990’s ‘The Hunt for Red October,’ Harrison Ford starred in 1992’s ‘Patriot Games’ and Ben Affleck starred as the CIA operative in 2002's ‘The Sum of All Fears.’ Paramount is banking on the assumption that audiences are still interested in this character. Without question, Pine gives it his best shot. The charm of the Jack Ryan role is playing the reluctant hero. Jack is a financial whiz with numbers and is put out of his element when he’s called to action by CIA mentor, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Costner is solid in his role but even he is not exactly sure if this guy has what it takes to save the world. At one point Harper asks him, “Any chance you can get that Boy Scout on-a-field-trip look off of your face?”
It’s not entirely Pine’s fault that his character is flat. However, he misses an important element to Jack Ryan and that is a sober demeanor when the chips are down. There is enough blame to go around especially with the generic screenplay by Adam Cozad and David Koepp. The film lacks interesting characters that are involved in a paint-by-numbers plot. The first half of the film deals with how Jack evolves from a brainy economic student to a covert CIA agent. The pacing is slow and takes a long time before the first bullet is fired and Jack kicks into an action hero. If directing wasn’t enough of a responsibility for Kenneth Branagh, he also takes on the role of Russian villain Viktor Cherevin using his best Boris Badenov impression from the ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ cartoon.
The brunt of the story deals with Jack after he becomes a financial analyst for the CIA. As a cover, he works as a compliance officer for a Wall Street firm. When the agency needs him to go to Moscow, the clandestine meeting is held at the Film Forum in Manhattan, a real movie house that caters to independent films. It’s definitely a nice plug by the screenwriters. Jack discovers the Russians are hiding large amounts of money that could potentially be used to cause the financial collapse of the U.S. economy. While folding Jack’s pants at their New York apartment, his fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) finds the movie ticket stub from the Film Forum. She accuses him of having an affair and insists on coming along with him on his trip to Moscow. He talks her out of it but she shows up anyway. This part of the story is far-fetched. Knightley is a wonderful actress but sadly not given much to do besides playing a jealous girlfriend. She even sports an American accent. Do we really sound that nasally to the world?
The action finally kicks in during the third act. It’s formulaic and we’ve seen it done better in James Bond movies. One of the best scenes takes place in a hotel room with Jack and Cathy having a quarrel before Costner's Harper cuts them off, “This is geopolitics, not couples therapy.” A scene in a fancy Moscow restaurant soon follows with Cathy acting as a distraction to Viktor’s flirtations while Jack breaks into the corporation’s computer files across the street. Unfortunately tapping on a keyboard before the bad guys come after you is only marginally suspenseful at this juncture of the story. So why not throw in Cathy getting kidnapped by Viktor and Jack running through the streets of Moscow to save her? No kidding. You might want to wait for ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ to reach DVD. Check out the official trailer from Paramount http://youtu.be/S8EaxDvZt4w.