The ol’ Jack Reach-around

Tom Cruise attempts to kick-start another action franchise

With the last Mission Impossible entry Ghost Protocol the series was concluded and wrapped up with a neat little bow. And though audiences would be happy to see Tom Cruise in another MI flick he may haveabandoned that idea for a new action franchise: Jack Reacher based on the series of bestselling novels by Lee Child. Despite a couple of nifty set pieces and decent performances the first instalment arrives with more of a thud than a bang.

The film opens with a nutcase opening fire on passersby walking along the river in Pittsburgh Penn. Though no fault of the film it’s awful timing in light of last month’s shooting in Connecticut. Despite the scene playing much more horrifyingly than it actually appears (like the rest of the film the sequence is relatively bloodless) I suspect most audiences will have a hard time stomaching it so soon.

A series of clues lead the police to a crazy army veteran and the case appears closed. Not so! The killer requests an audience with the enigmatic Jack Reacher (Cruise). Who is this mystery man Reacher? A career army cop with medals up the wazoo who decided to leave the military for a life of relative anonymity. After hearing about the shooting Reacher shows up in Pittsburgh. Turns out he knew the shooter who he had caught years earlier murdering a few folks in Iraq.

The killer’s defence attorney Helen (Rosamund Pike) thinks there’s something more to the story and enlists Reacher’s aid in solving the mystery of the crazed gunman. As the two dig deeper bodies begin to pile up the mystery becomes simultaneously more clever and stupidly perfunctory car chases ensue and Reacher kicks some serious ass.

The film can’t really decide what kind of hero Reacher is — a jaded loner happy to trade pithy barbs before he lands a punch or an idealistic superhero. He’s posited as a wandering hero of the Walking Tall type but emerges as The Littlest Hobo with a strong right hook.

Cruise still has the stamina and charisma to carry a blockbuster action flick but he looks adrift here. The rest of the cast is uniformly solid (well Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo anyway — Robert Duvall looks like he couldn’t give a shit). There’s even an incredibly bizarre (how could it not be?) appearance by Werner Herzog. The famous director/narrator plays a shadowy one-fingered villain named “the Zec.” In the film’s most idiosyncratic scene (which really belongs in one of Herzog’s films) he describes cooling his heels in a Russian gulag where he chewed off most of his digits. And it gets weirder from there.

Director Christopher McQuarrie puts it all together with a calculated professionalism resulting in a film that feels more like a series of set pieces (many of which are dull and only serve to propel the kinda-clever mystery forward) than a cohesive mystery. The film doesn’t do itself any favours either when it reveals the hilariously lame motive behind the murders.

There are a few thrilling moments the best being a winding car chase though downtown Pittsburg and a climactic shootout that somewhat avoids feeling like a first-person shooter video game. It’s not quite enough however to raise Jack Reacher above other forgettable thriller police procedurals. It wants to be the next MI but comes off as the heir to failed ’80s action franchise Remo Williams . (Though maybe I’m wrong — judging by the constant farting by someone in the audience at the screening I attended it must’ve been thrilling indeed.)

By the end of the film Cruise’s badass loner has walked into the sunset waiting for the next call to action. (It really is posited as some Littlest Hobo bullshit.) The real mystery is whether anyone will be there to watch.