“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” Movie Review


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     The central problem with a film like “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” isn’t necessarily that we’ve seen this story and genre played out so many times before, but rather the characters and material are completely overshadowed by “Mission: Impossible”,  a significantly better Cruise franchise.  That’s not to say this sequel to the moderately successful first film, “Jack Reacher” (2012), isn’t entertaining in its own right, but between the standard set of action genre characters and Cruise’s Reacher who doesn’t exactly possess a boatload of personality, the proceedings remain predictable throughout with little to no surprise as to the outcome.  

     Director Edward Zwick, who has several notable credits including working with Cruise on “The Last Samurai”, doesn’t appear to be the right fit for the material as the film never really achieves the epic scope Zwick is more than capable of creating.  That could be limitations created by Lee Child’s source novel, but more than likely the lack of significant dialogue provided by screenwriters Richard Wenk (“The Magnificent Seven”), Marshall Herskovitz (“The Last Samurai”), as well as Zwick himself.  The story is, in fact, so rudimentary and by the numbers that it tends to play like a poor man’s “Bourne” film, complete with a loner butt kicking hero and an adversary known in the film only as The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), conjuring immediate thoughts of this past summer’s “Jason Bourne” and a similar character called The Asset.

     Between movies and television, the storyline featuring a protagonist who has been wrongly framed for crimes he/she did not commit, only to spend the remainder of the film clearing their name while avoiding the very people who set them up in the first place, is one we have watched play out too many times to count.  What typically separates these films from going straight to video, versus receiving a theatrical release, is the star power signed on for the film.  There is no doubt Tom Cruise provides that and more with both of his “Jack Reacher” films, and the ageless actor still has the physical chops to be convincing in the myriad fight sequences his character seems to find himself in the middle of on a regular basis.

     In “Never Go Back”, Reacher finds himself suddenly caught within an investigation against an Army Officer who he has recently tipped off on an unrelated case.  It’s never really explained why, but Reacher spends his days living in crumby hotels and hitchhiking from town to town taking up a more underground version of his previous occupation as a Military Police investigator in the U.S. Army.  He doesn't really talk a whole lot, but always seems to be one step ahead of the criminals he looks to put behind bars, as is the case in the opening scene in which he calmly tells a small town sheriff the pay phone in the diner they're in is about to ring and that he will shortly be wearing cuffs on his way to prison.  

     The Army Officer he believes is being wrongly accused of treason, Major Turner (Cobie Smulders), is being set up in order to help cover up a massively nefarious operation (Of course!) run by a group of ex military types led by a mysterious retired General who has at his disposal all of the latest surveillance technology, as well as the obligatory goon squad led by the aforementioned Hunter.  Essentially, the story takes us from location to location as Reacher and Turner, who possess a number of obvious character similarities, attempt to find witnesses who can help them uncover the conspiracy that has both of them wanted.  Along the way, the screenwriters squeeze in a sub plot in which Reacher may have a 15 year old daughter, Samantha (Danika Yarosh) he didn’t know about who is used as leverage and ultimately forms a trio with Reacher and Turner so as to add a conflicting, yet sentimental element to this very common storyline.

     Perhaps the most glaring issue is the fact the action sequences simply don’t measure up to the competition and are not nearly creative enough to be described as original.  As a sequence in New Orleans unfolded during a chaotic parade in the street and all of the major characters involved, I kept thinking of the slick and suspenseful chase through the streets of Greece in Paul Greengrass’ “Jason Bourne” which came out just a few short months ago.  The Reacher sequence just doesn't pack the same punch, nor does it prove to be memorable once you leave the theater.  And that’s essentially where the film falls short.  Is it entertaining? Yes.  Is Cruise and his co stars up to the task? Of course.  Will you be talking about “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” next week? Unlikely.  GRADE: C