There are two types of Tom Cruise people in this world: those that don’t mind if he’s a whacko or not and go see his normally entertaining movies and those that avoid his movies based solely on his couch-jumping ways.
Even the biggest Cruise fans will have trouble defending the tedious bore that is “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.” The first installment was a refreshing Cruise performance that replaced his usual charm with a surly smart aleck attitude and it compensated for the fairly blasé story. This time around, director Edward Zwick couldn’t resist his tendency to blatantly tug at your heart and he turns Cruise’s Reacher into a big softie.
The movie begins with Jack Reacher, a former US Military Police Corp officer, flirting over the phone with his Washington D.C. replacement Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). Eventually, Reacher, ever the loner, hitchhikes and bus rides his way to D.C. after Susan agrees to go to dinner with him. Wouldn’t you know it, but by the time he arrives, Susan has been jailed and charged with espionage.
Of course, Reacher is then framed for the murder of Susan’s Army-appointed attorney. The next thing you know, the two of them are on the run from not only the Military Police (led by Aldis Hodge, channeling Tommy Lee Jones from “The Fugitive”), but a shady private military contractor.
There’s also a half-cocked mystery regarding whether or not Reacher is actually the father of Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh), a 15 year old girl whose mother has named Reacher in a paternity suit. Once the bad guys catch wind of this, they attempt to use Sam as a pawn in their game against Reacher, only causing his moral code to kick in and protect her from harm.
“Never Go Back” strives to be a clever government conspiracy thriller, but every twist and mystery is so predictable and easily identifiable that it fails at every turn. On top of that, screenwriters Zwick, Richard Wenk, and Marshall Herskovitz completely whiff on the one opportunity for Reacher to show an emotional side that makes sense when dealing with a former Army soldier who is clearly suffering with the effects of PTSD.
Even the reliable Cruise action is snore-inducing. Zwick, who directed the unbelievably gorgeous and intense Civil War movie “Glory”, has seemingly lost all creativity and feel for putting a viewer in the moment. Every escape that Reacher, Susan, and Sam make is forced, as if they ran out of film and said, “Just have them go out that side door then they’ll be safe.”
Even the big finale when Reacher and Susan go head to head with a hit squad is uninspired. It takes place in New Orleans during a Halloween parade and instead of actually using the parade chaos as a back drop with these people fighting for their lives in a packed street, everyone runs off to empty alleys and rooftops to mercifully get us all to the inevitably predictable outcome.
“Never Go Back” reaches peak levels of silliness when it ham-fists a moment that is so preposterous that everyone whose eyes are still in their head after it happens should be drug tested. There are levels of disbelief that are attainable in movies, but it would have been more believable if a unicorn ran on screen and saved Reacher, Susan, and Sam.
It’s a shame that Cobie Smulders is wasted in such a pedestrian movie. She’s definitely ready for a place at the leading actress table and her physical, tough performance is the highlight. Her character is treated as Reacher’s equal and when she pummels a baddie, it’s quite believable.
Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher isn’t a “Tom Cruise performance” in the way he is in the “Mission: Impossible” series, but this is serious letdown after the first movie. There’s just nothing to build on with his character and he’s more of a device used for story to happen around him. The “is she is daughter” element is a non-starter, even though Cruise does pent-up emotion better than almost every big star today.
“Jack Reacher: Never Back Down” never gets going. It awkwardly drops you into the life of the title character then proceeds to make him fairly lifeless. If not for Cruise and Smulders, this is nothing more than a B-level action movie that normally stars Jason Statham.