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'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' review: Skyfella

Jack Ryan has just enough time to check his Facebook page....
Jack Ryan has just enough time to check his Facebook page....
Paramount Pictures

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, and Kenneth Branagh

Release date: 1/17/2014

The Plot: Jack Ryan wants another do-over. When an evil Russian market profiteer (Branagh) decides that the world would be better off with a strong Russian economy, and a completely crippled American economy, (welcome to the wonderful world of what they call Hollywood fiction folks) it's up to undercover CIA operative Jack Ryan, (Pine) posing as a stock analyst, to stop a disastrous terrorist attack on American soil that will kick off the crumbling of the 250 year old super-power.

The Film: Who's ready for another origin story? Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a dip into Tom Clancy's primordial ooze, where the blue-eyed amoeba who will one day take on Irish terrorists in Patriot Games first stretches out its pseudopod to strangle the Russian empire before it can seize control of the pond.

I'm suspicious that Shadow Recruit is based from anything in the actual back catalog of Clancy's work, and is more or less here because the espionage/action movie - those of the muscular weapons, technology, and flesh - is experiencing another renaissance, no small thanks to Daniel Craig and Matt Damon. Namely, sharply dressed combat models who beat more ass than they care to tap.

Kenneth Branagh tweaks the template for his dalliance with the genre. Jack Ryan's a bit more of a deer in the headlights than his dashing and deadly cousins in the undercover agent racket. As Kevin Costner's Tom Harper tells Pine's Jack Ryan: "Try not to look like a Cub Scout on a field trip..." just before he introduces him to the President of the United States. Jack says that he'll try. To which Costner replies: "Nah.... That's what I like about you." And of course we can agree. It's what we like about him too.

He's a nice kid this Jack Ryan. Too nice for this line of work? Maybe.

On my end I kept focusing on all the terrible body-parts he had to negotiate on his first foray into active duty - namely Keira Knightley's jaws and Kenneth Branagh's large, wet eyes. Kenneth's Viktor Cherevin has a stare that could cool Superman's laser-vision, while Knightley's maw packs more snarled teeth than the common Gila monster. Ryan must lock eyes with one, and lips with the other. No easy task on either end.

Branagh's movie dabbles with the idea that Jack Ryan is essentially an analyst who has a gun forced into his hand. It's during these beats that Adam Cozad and David Koepp's script works best. It works less well when the film tries to make the leap into being an action movie of any substance. Kenneth Branagh's a terrific actor - and indeed, his Russian baddie is one of the high points of this film - and an adequate filmmaker, but the man can't cut together an action sequence to save his life.

To be fair I think that Sam Mendes struggled with the same issue making Skyfall, but still somehow managed to land some decent punches on the big screen during his transition from drama coach to boxing coach. Branagh's movie can't land a single punch. It's a shaky, flustered series of tries and misses.

Which kind of defeats the purpose of shrugging off Tom Clancy canon to go all Hollywood with this character in the first place.

The Verdict: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has a lot of heart, and precious little heat. It's a big budget rental. Which is a shame really. Chris Pine's terrific as a post-911 Jack Ryan, and Costner's mentor character has a ton of interesting possibilities. It's just sad that Kenneth Branagh couldn't have given them a primordial soup a bit meatier to restart this struggling franchise in.