Tom Cruise fills big shoes in uneven action thriller
Releasing Jack Reacher just before Christmas would be a little weird even in a year unmarked by December massacres with automatic weapons. The title character, however, is a lone wolf, an off-the-grid guardian angel/knight errant/avenger who is vastly more concerned with rough justice than with social niceties of any sort, and so maybe an against-the-grain release was inevitable, whatever the season.
Reacher, the hero of a series of novels by Lee Child, is played here by Tom Cruise, and screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun) has fashioned it all into a smoothly propulsive tough-guy vehicle for its star. Cruise’s lack of Reachersque height (the guy is 6’5” in the novels) has gotten a lot of advance press, but the 5’7” actor gives a consistently credible account of the title character, both as lone wolf/guardian avenger and as semi-superhuman fighting machine.
Adapted from a Reacher/Child novel called One Shot, the film is a murder mystery that begins with a sniper shooting down people, apparently at random, in a city square. The “ghostly” and elusive Reacher enters the case in peculiar fashion—the chief suspect, a former Army sniper, has sought his help—and he stays (always on his own narrowly defined terms) to sort through the ensuing tangle of corrupt law enforcement, feminine distractions, evil-schemer masterminds and heavily armed thugs and malcontents.
The heavies include an off-the-grid conspirator and Russian refugee (oddly underplayed by filmmaker Werner Herzog) and a semi-interchangeable array of hulking thugs. Australian Jai Courtney is the most imposing of that lot, and Joseph Sikora (as the sniper/suspect) is the most touchingly pathetic.
James Martin Kelly has a good moment or two as a grieving father/victims-rights poster boy. David Oyelowo is stuck with a key police role that proves less and less coherent as the story moves along.
The women of consequence are an adventurous defense attorney (Rosamund Pike) who enlists a reluctant Reacher as an investigator on behalf of the sniper/suspect, and a caricatured and pathetically pliant young blonde (Alexia Fast) who gets trapped in the crossfire of conspiracies. Both of them find Reacher tantalizing, but he stops short of full-on romance—he seems capable of seduction, but apparently he prefers the role of protector.
As such, this tale with its manly gun-love and bedazzled females might seem a little like semi-repressed pornography for boyish hunter/warrior wannabes. Be that as it may, it’s clearly a Cruisified version of the paranoid action thriller as practiced previously by Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris and “Dirty Harry” Eastwood.
All told, the action scenes are its strongest suit. There’s a terrific, inventively extended car chase, in which Cruise appears to do some of his own stunt driving. A slam-bang dust-up inside a small bathroom almost works as absurdist comedy. But an elaborate shoot-out in a quarry ends up looking a little too much like a videogame routine.