Jack is back

An able leading man and a big surprise make The Sum of All Fears another good Jack Ryan movie.

“Seriously, man … I’m sexier than Matt Damon, right?”

“Seriously, man … I’m sexier than Matt Damon, right?”

Rated 3.0

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan changes faces again in The Sum of All Fears, a frightening and timely story of nuclear terrorism featuring the third actor to play Ryan in 12 years.

The Hunt For Red October (‘90) featured Alec Baldwin as CIA analyst Ryan. Baldwin demanded too much money for the sequel and was replaced by Harrison Ford for two subsequent installments, Patriot Games (‘92) and Clear and Present Danger (‘94). That’s right, the last time Jack Ryan graced the screen was eight years ago, his absence due to Ford’s basically jerking around the producers and finally bowing out a couple of years back.

Rather than continue the Ryan storyline where it left off (that would make Ryan an old bastard with few films left in him), producers have taken the rather bizarre approach of completely reinventing the character as a young CIA upstart, as if the prior films never happened. Set in modern day, Ben Affleck now occupies the role, bringing all the aloofness that is Affleck to the franchise, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Affleck has been getting better with each film, a process especially evident in this year’s Changing Lanes (you can’t blame him for Pearl Harbor). Rather than the cool, reserved Ryan, we now have an eager, nervous Ryan trying to break in with the CIA. He gets the chance to make his mark when the man he predicted would someday become president of Russia gets the gig, making him look prophetic.

CIA Director Cabot (Morgan Freeman) takes Ryan under his wing, bringing him on a Russian excursion to meet the new Pres (Ciaran Hinds). Whilst visiting, Ryan conducts a nuclear arms inspection and realizes that three scientists are missing. This is the first of major problems Ryan will discover en route to uncovering a major terrorist plot against America.

The Sum of All Fears takes the safe route by making the main terrorists Neo-Nazis (it is unlikely there will be many protests by the Anti-Nazi Defamation League). I can honestly tell you that the film’s big surprise kicked my ass. Somehow, I managed to avoid info on this movie to such effect that the film’s major tragedy caught me off guard to some degree.

For me, the magnitude of the surprise event is the greatest plus the movie has to offer, so shame on all the critics who can’t find other things to write about, thus spoiling the shock value. Hell, I’d just as soon write an entire paragraph on Gold Toe Socks or the Wonders of Organic Pretzels than spoil the surprise. Plot synopsis is one thing, but key elements should remain untold until seeing the movie.

Please, if you intend on seeing this film, flee the room when TV commercials come on, burn all copies of the novel within reachable radius of yourself and, for God’s sake, avoid the freaking critics! They have such notoriously big mouths!

Bolstering the supporting cast are the likes of Liev Schreiber as CIA operative and all-around scary guy John Clark (a role played by Willem Dafoe in Clear and Present Danger) and Philip Baker Hall as the U.S. Secretary of Defense (who has a heart episode during a tense moment, an obvious reference to Dick Cheney).

If I were to rank the Ryans, Baldwin would come first (he rocked in October), followed by Ford and then Affleck, but I generally like all three. It will be interesting to see how Affleck ages with the role, should he return for more installments. Opening weekend box office receipts for The Sum of All Fears, which knocked Star Wars off its perch, suggest he will be invited back.