I’ll be honest, I don’t have much to say about the second Jack Reacher movie, because it didn’t say much to me. Considering how I really enjoyed the way the first film gnawed off the edges of Tom Cruise’s action hero persona (a la the Mission: Impossible films) and left us with a rough-and-tumble, military-trained thug who would just as soon kick you in the nuts as he would negotiate any point, I was moderately devastated how bland Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is.
There’s actually a point in the film where a character says, “I want that yesterday,” and the response is “Sir! Yes, sir!” Apparently it took three screenwriters to come up with that exchange—director Edward Zwick (who helmed The Last Samurai, starring Cruise), Richard Wenk, and Marshall Herskovitz—all working from Lee Child’s pulp character. If there were just one weak character or a couple of dead spots in the film, I could be more forgiving, but Never Go Back is almost entirely devoid of originality, an utter wasteland with only an oasis or two to keep us going to the next bit of goodness.
I hate to pick on the young, but I was stunned to discover (and the marketing team was right to hide this) that a main character in this film is a teenage girl named Samantha (Danika Yarosh, who has been in “Shameless” and “Heroes Reborn”) who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter. When he finds out about her, he immediately becomes protective, and what a shock, she’s a rebellious pain in the ass who does the opposite of what he tells her to do, which leads to more trouble for Reacher and his pals. But she also seems to have instincts that lead Reacher to believe she must be cut from his loin cloth. She’s a miserable character that has no business in his movie other than as a potential target for Reacher to save.
Next up is Robert Knepper (“Prison Break,” “Heroes”) as the baddie. Now I happen to like Knepper’s lazy Southern drawl and general performance in just about anything. But let’s face it, when you cast him, you know what you’re getting: a certain type of bad guy who offers no surprises in terms of performance or dialogue. He’s right out of Central Casting, which he joined after graduating from Villain School.
Never Go Back’s saving grace is Cobie Smulders as Susan Turner, a military major falsely accused of spying, who Reacher must save and team up with to defeat Knepper’s General Harkness. She at least levels some actual personality and humanity into her character, and when the film boils down to just Smulders and Cruise, it improves vastly. Yes, there are two or three quite good action sequences—a foot chase through a Halloween parade in New Orleans sticks in my head as a standout set piece—but I walked out of this thing genuinely shocked that Cruise’s quality control protocol had seemingly faltered, and we’re left with this stinky, colorless bowl of gruel.
I’m also more than a little shocked that Zwick directed this movie. He usually has an eye for making even the stalest concepts seem fresh and interesting, but no such luck here. I know it may sound cold, but I don’t want a touchy-feely Jack Reacher, caring about other people and distracting him from his mission. Here, he talks tough, kills a few guys, but there’s no passion for it. He’s going through the motions, and it hurts my heart to see Cruise miss the mark so wide. All I can say is, thank goodness he has two films coming out next year, hopefully to make us forget this one.