Directed by Edward Zwick
Written by Richard Wenk and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, and Holt McCallany
Runtime: 118 minutes
I really enjoyed the first Jack Reacher movie. Part of it was that it was as funny as it was thrilling, with Tom Cruise delivering a very good performance as a tired and well-worn former military man who has a penchant for being a great detective and Christopher McQuarrie’s taught, clear direction. The other part of it was that it was filmed in Pittsburgh, where I live. Not only that, but much of it was filmed in the part of the city where I live, so I had fun going “I drive on that road!” “I know where that auto parts store is!”. People who live in New York, L.A. and Chicago (Not to mention London, Paris and Rome) are used to this feeling and despite more films being shot in Pittsburgh over the last several years than ever before, it’s still a rare feeling for me.
Now comes Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and part of me thinks they should have heeded the title and not gone back to the character, or perhaps worked harder to involve the creative team behind the first one (McQuarrie is busy prepping the sixth Mission Impossible film for Cruise, following up his excellent entry Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, so he wasn’t available to write and direct this one). Cruise called in Edward Zwick, with whom he worked on The Last Samurai in 2003 (a very good movie, often forgotten now). Zwick has some good-to-great work under his belt, including Glory, Courage Under Fire, and the afore mentioned The Last Samurai. He unfortunately also has clunkers like About Last Night…, The Siege, Legends of the Fall and Defiance to his credit and the okay Love and Other Drugs. His track record is erratic at best, and his habit of rewriting a project he starts working on doesn’t often help.
This time around, Reacher is put in the middle of a conspiracy to use arms shipments for drug smuggling, something that Turner (Cobie Smulders, best known for playing Agent Maria Hill in The Avengers, and Avengers: Age of Ultron), Reacher’s friend and current commander of the base he used to command, was in the process of uncovering when she was put in military prison for treason. Reacher springs her only to discover that Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a girl that is believed to be Reacher’s daughter (whom he had no knowledge of) is in danger because of his involvement. They take Sam with them on their fugitive run while trying to unravel the mystery of Turner and Reacher’s frame-up.
The story, based on Lee Child’s novel Never Go Back (one of his apparently endless stream of Jack Reacher novels), gets more tangled and complex as it goes along, involving a kind of nemesis in Patrick Heusinger’s character, referred to only as The Hunter, and lots of running (as is typical for a Tom Cruise action picture). The screenplay, written first by action screenwriting veteran Richard Wenk (who, in addition to The Magnificent Seven remake this year, also wrote The Equalizer, The Expendables 2, 16 Blocks and The Mechanic, as well as the upcoming The Equalizer 2) then reworked by Zwick and occasional collaborator Marshal Herskovitz, (who co-re-wrote Love and Other Drugs and The Last Samurai with Zwick), is a hodgepodge of action sequences, limited detective work and unrealized emotional tension, culminating to a partially satisfying climax. The biggest weakness of the script is the non-relationship between Reacher and Samantha (also the unratcheted sexual tension between he and Turner). Reacher is supposed to be dealing with the revelation that he might be a father and we are only given a few instances where that seems to weigh on him. He has moments of pseudo-protectiveness and some funny awkward conversations with her, but because he’s hiding who he may be to her, she can’t contribute to the emotions and that leaves the scenes one-sided and lifeless.
Zwick directs the action scenes well, as it’s the one thing he’s best known for. Many of the fight scenes are amplifications (in some cases copies) of what we saw Reacher do in the first film and they’re very exciting. Where he falters is in the unraveling of the detective story. Zwick isn’t a subtle director so keeping the secrets of the mystery felt like an extraordinary challenge for him.
The bright spots are the actors. Cruise is in typically fine form reprising his role and Smulders is good as usual. Yarosh holds her own and has some very genuine moments that help give her character some life. Heusinger is entertaining as the relentless mercenary who takes Reacher on as his own personal project, intensifying the conflict between the two.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back never quite gels like the first one did. It’s not a carbon copy of the previous film, which is to its credit, but it also never quite makes it to the level of being its own movie. Zwick’s uneven direction, intensifying the action while dragging the story scenes behind it like Jack Torrence’s leg at the end of The Shining, makes the picture somewhat trying. Add to this a purposefully obfuscated detective story with a magic reveal that used to only happen in Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler novels (an ending that no one could have predicted because the necessary information is never revealed to the reader/viewer) makes this a slow-going and belabored event. Do yourself a favor and watch Jack Reacher twice and wait for a better sequel to come along. If that doesn’t happen, at least there’s still the first one.