Friday, December 28, 2012

Jack Reacher

JACK REACHER: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall, Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (130 min.)

Jack Reacher plays like one long episode of NCIS.  It could be repackaged for a CBS Sunday night movie, and titles NCIS: Pittsburgh.  And that, at least to me, is not really a good thing.  This film is generic from top to bottom without much style or substance beyond surface matters, a surprisingly bland movie from the writer of The Usual Suspects.  It isn't a bad film necessarily, but it isn't a good one either.  It just... is.

Tom Cruise plays the title character, an ex-military policeman who left the service and promptly fell off the grid.  As the film opens, a mysterious sniper kills five seemingly random people walking along the river outside the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium.  This opening sequence is jarring given the recent events in Connecticut.  I felt uncomfortable watching these innocent people shot dead, but let's continue.  The man who kills these people (Jai Courtney) is setting up another man, James Barr (Joseph Sikora), and he does so in such a blatant way that the police apprehend Barr with a slam-dunk case.  Before long Barr is assaulted by fellow prisoners and left in a coma.  Enter defense attorney Helen, played by Rosamund Pike who is decidedly underwhelming here.

Helen's father is the District Attorney, Rodin (Richard Jenkins), and there is familial strife here which is left by the wayside.  Helen is in charge of defending Barr, and her lead investigator comes at the request of Barr himself before he is beaten senseless.  In his interrogation, Barr writes down a simple command for the police and the DA: "Get me Jack Reacher."

As I said before, Reacher is a man who disappears at the drop of the hat, with no credit history or mortgage or tax returns, no extra change of clothes for that matter.  Reacher is first certain that Barr is the killer given his history in the Army where he was a bit of an unhinged sniper.  But he and Helen begin snooping around and they discover there are larger, more devious entities behind these killings.  Their investigation makes them hot targets for seedy underworld lowlifes and crooks, led by The Zec, a German psychopath who has an interesting explanation for his missing fingers.  The Zec is played by none other than the eclectic director Werner Herzog in maybe the most befuddling casting move all year.

The proceedings of Jack Reacher are painfully routine and formulaic as Reacher digs deeper and must confront thugs and rubes and crooked officials along the way.  There is one watered-down chase scene in the middle and a few fist fights which carry the narrative to the final showdown that is as ordinary as can be.  Cruise seems to look as confused as to why he is here, and as I mentioned Rosamund Pike has one facial expression: wide-eyes, mouth open.  McQuarrie, who directed the vastly underrated The Way of the Gun as a follow up to his screenplay for The Usual Suspects, takes a step back as a director here, working from a script based on the novel by Lee Child.  The Jack Reacher character is apparently a recurring character in a series of books, and I am certain these books are the kind you buy and read on an airplane and immediately forget about once you land. 

And once the final reveal is uncovered, it was met by me with a sweeping feeling of apathy.  Oh, that's the twist?  Who cares?  Then, as if the generic tone hadn't been set up enough, Robert Duvall appears as the wily country boy who just so happens to be a lot of help in the end.  He is officially the kitchen sink of formula.  Now I respect Robert Duvall's earlier body of work, but has he not become the defacto old codger in films like this?  It seems he could do a little better.  But then again, so could Tom Cruise.