New Jack pretty
Reboot with Tom Clancy’s signature character is by-the-numbers actioner
Jack Ryan—the multitalented, highly credentialed intelligence agent/cold warrior/soldier/intellect of Tom Clancy’s novels—has been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck in the various movie versions. Now, screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp have devised their own Jack Ryan tale, with baby-faced Chris Pine playing the Clancy hero at the outset of a career in all-purpose international intrigue.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit might be termed a prequel, except that the franchise chronology has been flipped. This Ryan is indeed younger than the others, but the events of Shadow Recruit are all post-9/11. That leaves the film as a kind of speculative hybrid—a Clancy-like adventure tale that plays around with notions of what Clancy’s hero might have been like if he had been born circa 1980.
There are some amusing possibilities in that basic premise, but the onscreen results are consistently generic, dutiful and efficient. This film’s Ryan is a semi-juvenile cutie-pie with nascent action-hero chops, and Pine serves ably in the role’s various aspects—the athletic action exploits, the bantering expository dialogue, the whimsical digressions into romantic comedy.
Pine/Ryan is the one who gets the spectacular tasks here, but CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner)—Pine’s mentor/minder/father figure/ enabler—has the slightly more central, pivotal and deeply heroic role. Costner’s Harper seems a wry, middle-aged version of what Ryan will become, but he’s so deeply involved in every aspect of young Ryan’s formative adventures and so miraculously present for each key twist that his guardian-angel status seems more than merely metaphorical.
Nevertheless, much of the rest of Shadow Recruit is taken up with oddball variations on the routine stuff of genre entertainment. There’s a gratuitous love story that has Ryan’s fiancée (Keira Knightley) following him to Europe and getting caught up in the dangers of a supposedly secret mission. And there’s Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed), a Russian megalomaniac who’s plotting a terrorist attack on Wall Street as well as a catastrophic devaluation of U.S. currency.
Dr. Cathy Muller (Knightley), who falls for Ryan while he’s recovering from drastic war wounds, is a curiously absurd and discordant piece of the story—she’s heroic in a silly B-movie way, and she’s also a pawn of the plot and a barely noticeable fly in the psychosexual ointment of the super-male spy genre.
Branagh, meanwhile, is something of an embarrassment—a character actor and occasional Shakespearian playing a cartoon Russian despot with no psychological credibility and no “character” apart from the dictates of plot mechanics. And his direction of this project is functional and adequate, at best.