Bad timing! My wife actually left the theater during the screening of “Jack Reacher.” It just hit her a little too close to home. Given the tragic events in Connecticut, the release of this light action flick almost seems like its in bad taste. For Tom Cruise, it might be a disaster. The movie is pretty entertaining, but its mix of humor and macho gun-play ensures that any laughs will be of the uncomfortable variety.
The story concerns the title character’s investigation of a shooting allegedly by a mentally imbalanced former military sniper. Taken from the pages of one of Lee Child’s popular novels, Reacher (Cruise) is a one-time top military police officer who now roams the country off the grid. Reacher travels by Greyhound bus and doesn’t even carry a change of clothes (not even a stick of deodorant). When a former military sniper is implicated in an awful shooting massacre, Reacher shows up to take care of some unfinished business. But the accused gunman’s attorney (played by Rosamund Pike) has other ideas and enlists Reacher to dig into the crime. The case against the shooter that at first seems open and shut quickly begin to unravel. And in this ridiculous fantasy, the defense attorney’s father (played by Richard Jenkins) is the prosecuting attorney, which really would never happen from an ethical perspective.
Working from his own script director Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) injects a fair amount of genuine humor into this film that helps brighten up the otherwise run-of-mill conspiracy and action elements. The plot is really pretty dumb and involves a mysterious villain played with the right amount of b-movie sneering gusto by non-other-than Werner Herzog (yes, the iconic director). Part of the success of the movie is the casting that also gives us some fun moments with Robert Duvall who plays the owner of a gun range.
The movie is a Tom Cruise production. And I like him in the role, but I would have liked to have seen the movie pitched a bit darker giving Cruise a chance to be more like his character from “Collateral.” Of course, here Cruise plays the hero, albeit jaded, but in full on devil-may-care mode. I was told by someone who read the books that Cruise would not have been the actor that would first come to mind in the Reacher role. Reacher in the book is much taller than Cruise. And in one scene, I laughed because Cruise walks into a crowded bar and only in a Tom Cruise production would everyone be either shorter than him or about his height. Still, he’s downright fierce, at times, as Reacher, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him in a sequel.
Another thing that bothered me a bit was the way in which the movie was shot. It is very bright in places and even a little flat. There is a scene in which Reacher visits an auto parts store that I thought was shot with little imagination and lost impact. The production, budgeted at $50 million, really feels low end like Cruise and company are slumming and trying on the b-movie genre. While Cruise is still very much a big deal, I can’t help but think that with this derivative entry we’re seeing a career in decline. And with the resurgence of Stallone and the embarrassing looking attempt to jump back in the game by Schwarzenegger, the crime action thriller category is getting crowded. Cruise though, a younger face, has a chance with Reacher to build a low-rent franchise, but the next outing will have to be grittier and darker.
The timing will probably kill “Reacher” at the box office. And with MPAA Chief Chris Dodd out talking about support for gun control by Hollywood, the typical PG-13 rating for this kind of material might be in jeopardy. Since “Reacher” has a story-line that is so eerily similar to current events, it will be hard for audiences to check their brains at the door and enjoy the ride. That’s probably a good thing.