Reacher Feature: In Jack Reacher, Our Hero Shrinks to Fit the Silver Screen

Cruise in Jack Reacher.

Cruise in Jack Reacher.

Based on one in a series of numbing beach paperbacks (17 in all) by Lee Child about a mysterious assassin named Jack Reacher, this film is deader than the corpses that litter the screen. Pick up one of these time-wasters at any airport bookstall and you will inevitably read a description of this cold-blooded wielder-of-weapons-of-mass-destruction as blonde, blue-eyed, six-foot-five—and built like The Incredible Hulk. In Jack Reacher, he is played by Tom Cruise, who is a 50-year-old testament to the miracles of Botox but in no way resembles Jack Reacher. Welcome to the movies.

On a gray morning in Pittsburgh, five people are randomly mowed down by a wacko soldier from the war in Iraq, a skilled sniper with a carefully trained military history. Quickly apprehended, dragged into custody and grilled extensively, the suspect yields nothing except a weird note on which he scribbles: “Get Jack Reacher.” The next section of the movie (which is very long and very confusing—not to mention very boring) devotes itself to trying to finding the enigmatic mystery man. A former U.S. Army hotshot, cop, Purple Heart honoree and dropout from the human race, Jack is an elusive loner with no mailing address, telephone number, bank account, passport or government-issued I.D. Needless to say, he’s hard to reach. (He must have a driver’s license, though, because he manages to destroy a multitude of cars before this interminable movie ends.) Anyway, the sexy defense attorney (Rosamund Pike) manages to find him and lure him to Pennsylvania to help her crack the case and get justice for her client. Although the accused lies in a coma following a savage beating by the cops, Jack identifies the guy and insists he’s innocent. Since the face of the real killer has been revealed to the rest of us from the beginning, we know this already. Now it’s up to Jack to expose the actual culprit and his motive. The more he pursues the truth, the more elusive it becomes. The rest of the movie is about the ingenious ways Jack Reacher beats, smacks and crunches the bad guys weaned on violence into human shrapnel, smashing their skulls, breaking their fingers, poking their eyes out and kicking them in the groin, turning them into sopranos. When anyone gets too close to identifying him as Jack Reacher, he uses an alias of a second baseman on the New York Yankees.

Based on One Shot, the ninth book in Lee Child’s series, the ridiculous plot has something to do with a conspiracy to kill four innocent people to cover up the deliberate murder of the fifth victim for reasons that are as clear as a Rubik’s Cube. Endless head-scratching clues eventually lead to “Mr. Big”—a Russian gangster played by cult director Werner Herzog, who should have taken the time to teach inept Christopher McQuarrie (who also directed Mr. Cruise in one of his biggest flops, the ill-fated Valkyrie)how to mount a simple two-shot with conviction. Mr. Herzog and his goons land half of the cast in the morgue. Now somebody is out to kill Reacher, and it might be the pretty blond defense lawyer’s own father, the D.A. (a wasted Richard Jenkins). Adding to the confusion is the late entrance of a grizzled old gun seller (a wasted Robert Duvall) who pitches in to help Reacher kill off anybody who is still standing. It takes a veteran actor like Mr. Duvall to suppress a smirk and let you know he’s aware of what a potboiler he’s in. Cruise: “Can you take him out?” Duvall: “To dinner, you mean?”

None of it is remotely original. The film’s biggest action scene—a wild chase inside an underground tunnel with Reacher driving the wrong way—has been done a dozen times before, most often by James Bond. The acting is an exercise in granite-faced self-restraint. There is a slight hint of romance when the blond attorney moves in close to his perfect picket-fence teeth with moist brow and trembling lips. But this is a Tom Cruise movie. No kissing, no groping. Except for stripping down to prove a star can still be camera-ready after 50 if he invests in the right Nautilus equipment, Mr. Cruise walks through the movie in a trance. Who can blame him, with a script that forces him to say things like “I’m going to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot”? Inadvertently funny, sure, but Jack Reacher is mostly grim, violent and stupid.

rreed@observer.com

JACK REACHER

Running Time 131 minutes

Written by Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay) and Lee Child (book)

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins