When a TV show adds a young kid into the dynamic, it’s typically a death knell for the series. The see-through last-ditch effort helps with a temporary boost in the ratings before inevitable decline and cancellation. The same goes for film franchises who utilize the same technique. In director Edward Zwick’s sequel to 2012’s highly underrated/ underseen JACK REACHER, the prophetically titled JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK, the filmmakers add a surly teen into the mix just when the series was on a meteoric rise. What follows is a rapid waning of audience goodwill. The film, based on Lee Child’s 18th book in the Jack Reacher series, may have been a good beach read, but it makes for a mediocre sequel.
Nomad Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise, who shows he’s still formidable in this role), whose badass attitude is bigger than his height, is making his way to D.C. to visit Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), with whom he’s been engaging in mild telephone flirtations. However, he finds a new commanding officer of the 110th has taken her place. He also learns that his potential paramour has been arrested for espionage, she doesn’t want to see him, and he may or may not be the father of a 15-year-old girl, churlish Sam (Danika Yarosh). But as just he’s beginning to investigate things, he’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit. With the authorities and a merciless mercenary (Patrick Heusinger) in hot pursuit, Reacher must figure out what’s at the bottom of this government conspiracy.
The cold open, which opens on the aftermath of one of Reacher’s trademarked rabble-rousing fisticuffs, is ostensibly the best part of this film. And with the exception of the shootout in the shipyard, the rest of Zwick’s action set pieces aren’t as exhilarating as they should have been. It’s all bland generic action – from the fight in the kitchen, to the four-on-one bout in a warehouse cage, to the car chases. We’ve seen innovative action and it’s a shame a little more style and panache wasn’t allotted to our hero’s journey.
On a narrative level, Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz and Richard Wenk’s script follows a similar by-the-numbers approach. Things happen when they are supposed to happen. A character uses a phone when they aren’t supposed to so there will be another pursuit so we can get to the next location, where they will then use a credit card to get into another chase and location change. In between all the fleeing, a little bit of parental bonding, as well as character growth, occurs. Worst of all, throughout all of our journey, we never grow to care about anyone but Reacher.
Nothing surprises us. Well, almost nothing. The way the private schoolgirls welcome Sam instantly to their inner circle is laughable, replete with clunky dialogue you can tell 60-plus-year-old men wrote for teens. They also ham-handedly attempt to address Reacher’s supposed sexism in the way he treats Turner – crazy given the fact he non-verbally treats her like an equal from the get-go. It goes nowhere fast in the second act, but thanks for playing. It’s also never resolved. There’s a clunky callback that makes you feel dumber having made mental note of it. The homeless junkie character who drops out on his wife and newborn (within a week, I’d like to point out) is ludicrous. This film has one foot planted in reality and another in Hollywood escapism, and it’s having a hard time straddling the line.
There’s a distinctively dated and dusty “90’s movie” quality that emerges in the material, and it feels reductive of the stronger films from back then. It was an embarrassment of riches that we had with Christopher McQuarrie (MI:5) at the helm of the first Jack Reacher cinematic outing – and we looked that gift horse in the mouth. Listen, it’s not that the filmmakers should have never gone back – as the title so aptly suggests. It’s just that they should have made the second trip to the well a story worth being told.
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK opens on October 21.