Movie Review: “Jack Reacher” turns babysitter in “Never Go Back”

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Vigorous, violent, and would you believe…cute?

With “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” Tom Cruise & Co. take the popular Lee Child character and franchise and stick a gun in its mouth.

Cruise and his “thirtysomething” co-conspirators — a cheap shot, but hey, “Glory” and “Defiance” take a back seat in director Edward Zwick’s ouevre when he’s working on the script with longtime partner Marshall Herskovitz — take a lean, stoic man of action and have him bickering with a soldier (Cobie Smulders) he’s trying to rescue over who should take care of this annoying teen (Danika Yarosh).

Seriously. And sorry, teens. You’re all kind of annoying…in the movies.

Reacher (Cruise, who produced this as well) is headed to D.C., a drifter living, we assume, off his Army pension. He wants to meet this officer in the military police/Judge Advocates General department who’s helped him and who sounds sexy on the phone (Smulders).

But there are contractors out to kill her, and it turns out, him. They know about some girl (Yaroush) who claims to be his daughter. And they aren’t fooling around. They dress in black, the hit-man’s choice (Patrick Heusinger is “The Hunter”) and stalk Reacher in black SUVs , purchased wherever black suits and machine guns with silencers are sold.

And they frame Reacher for every death that happens during their pursuit. He has to tease out who is behind this, what they want and what their monetary angle, and figure out a way to get this movie to New Orleans.

Where production incentives make setting your story during Mardi Gras worth your while.

This isn’t the most interesting character Cruise has ever played, just a tougher Clint Eastwood-quiet brute who broods, tells bad guys which limbs he’s going to break and makes a show out of not being addressed by his former rank — Major.

It’s “EX-major.” Or “Just Reacher, I’m a civilian now.”

The Army and all its contractor scandals and those who would kill to cover them up keep pulling him back. And in that milieu, we get to hear how “You’re a LEGEND around here” and “they ran outta medals” when it comes to Reacher.

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The movie starts with a brawl we don’t see, progresses to epic fights with bad guys (apparently) reluctant to draw their guns, and shootouts. Cruise’s ageing Reacher punches through car windows, drops legions of bad guys and ambles toward a final showdown.

And they drag along this kid the bad guys might want to hurt because she might be connected to Reacher, allowing Cruise to play a guy who has no idea how to parent. And he bickers, without irony, wit or sarcasm, with Major Turner (Smulders) over who should stay in the hotel and watch the kid. Because, you know, women, even Army badasses, must have maternal instincts, right?

We figure out what’s going on long before Reacher, and whatever cool value there is in the rough justice of Reacher’s beat-downs or the logistics of living off the grid, on the lam, stealing mini-vans and cell-phones, evaporates with every idiotic thing the sassy, brassy teen says or (predictably) does.

When it works, it works. But if this character and this franchise are to survive, “Never Go Back” needs to be a promise Reacher makes — about ever playing a parent again.2stars1
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements)

Cast:Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger

Credits:Directed by Edward Zwick, script by Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Richard Wenk. A Paramount release.

Running time: 1:58

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