by Jack Sommersby
Fans of the Jack Reacher novels will be sorely disappointed, and so will the rest looking for a satisfying action thriller.It's been twelve years since Oscar-winning The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie made his directorial debut with the abysmal crime tale The Way of the Gun (which he also scripted), and with Jack Reacher, his first directing job since, he proves the incompetence he showed in that debut was no fluke -- for this movie, which he adapted from best-selling author Lee Child's One Shot, is every bit as bad despite the adequateness of the source material. For the uninitiated, Child writes the enormously successful series showcasing ex-military-policeman Jack Reacher, who, after thirteen years of dedicated, multi-medaled service, aimlessly travels around the United States, mostly by bus, exploring a country his lifetime as a Marine brat and Army officer hadn't afforded him -- and, of course, getting into a series of violent adventures along the way. Standing six-feet-five, weighing two-hundred-twenty pounds, Reacher is a wonder of a literary creation: a giant of a man with equal doses of brawn and brain, super-strong and brilliantly deductive, he's a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who can take six guys on at once and effortlessly go through them without ever breaking a sweat. So, of course, it's more than a bit off-putting to see the diminutive-by-comparison Tom Cruise playing the enigmatic Reacher. And it's not just the physical disparities, but the lack of internal force and mysteriousness, both of which Cruise succeeded at as the professional hit man in Michael Mann's Collateral -- here, reverting to his Mission Impossible blandness, he simply doesn't have the captivating screen presence for the part. At the age of fifty Cruise still looks great, but the intelligence that occasionally comes through in his work is muted: he's straining to get across Reacher's fascinating qualities without anything particularly interesting coming of it, and acting in italics so we're all too aware of the effort behind it. In Child's novels, Reacher exists as anonymously as his intimidating physique will allow: he doesn't go looking for trouble, preferring to travel around with only the clothes on his back; it's only when he comes across, or gets caught up in, a wrong that needs righting that he actively engages himself. The Cruise/Wagner production company acquired the One Shot property, and clearly this box-office star has respect for the character -- he doesn't go in for cheap machismo for easy effects -- but, after over a decade as an action hero, he doesn't come up with anything fresh. (Gerald Butler, I think, could've provided the necessary dynamism.)
"Another McQuarrie Misfire"
But Cruise's inadequateness doesn't single-handedly wreck the picture -- not when a mediocre talent like McQuarrie is on hand, lousing things up in both the writing and directing departments. Granted, One Shot is far from the best of Child's series (a crucial plot hole, ho-hum atmosphere, little narrative immediacy), but McQuarrie, whose overpraised The Usual Suspects was more complicated than complex, has impaired matters even further with jumbled talking-heads scenes that neither further nor deepen the plot (you have to keep reminding yourself what the movie's really about), along with truly lackluster action sequences that generate about as much excitement as an afternoon tea party (the grand finale at a rock quarry is especially listless). The story has to do with an Iraq War veteran accused of opening fire on innocent bystanders in downtown Pittsburgh: five people are killed, the man is soon arrested at his home while asleep, and an overwhelming amount of evidence is amassed. Refusing to talk to the police, the man writes "Get Jack Reacher" on a notepad, and Reacher, having seen the news report of the incident, arrives in Pittsburgh not to help the man, but to "bury" him, for during the war the man had taken out four U.S. war contractors with a high-powered rifle just for the fun of it. In one of many missteps, we're shown from the get-go that another man is in fact responsible for the Pittsburgh shooting; and the conspiracy behind it (something to do with a shady construction company's plan to, quite literally, eliminate its competition) is treated almost like an afterthought -- you don't care whodunit or whydunit, and with a running time over two hours this leadenly paced movie fails at generating much in the way of excitement. And McQuarrie's pseudo-hardboiled dialogue by the dubious likes of "I'm going to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot" doesn't help. McQuarrie's not a complete dummy. He had the good sense to hire one of the best cinematographers in the business, Caleb Deschanel (The Black Stallion): the nighttime downtown Pittsburgh exteriors have been lit with a luxurious noir tactility. And his casting of both Rosamund Pike, as the accused's attorney, and German director Werner Herzog, as the Russian villain, is spot-on. But what hokum you have to wade through! There's a stupid car chase edited so carelessly a Drivers Ed video would be more pulse-pounding, a hambone Robert Duvall as a crusty gun-range owner, and an eye-rolling scene with a shirtless Cruise and Pike in a motel room reeks of movie-star vanity. Hopefully, it'll be another dozen years before McQuarrie perpetrates another cinematic misfire onto us -- or, more appropriately, an unlucky thirteen years.Paul Haggis's outstanding "The Next Three Days" is a much better Pittsburgh-set thriller.
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originally posted: 05/09/13 01:13:02