Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is both the title of the new Tom Cruise film, and could also work as the punchline for this review. Because frankly it’s an underwhelming action movie that lacks the suspense and the high-adrenalin thrills that have come to characterize the Top Gun star’s favorite genre.
Cruise plays a former military policeman-turned-vigilante who’s off the grid but tends to show up when he smells trouble and lets his fists fly. It’s a role he reprises from the moderately successful 2012 film “Jack Reacher”, which was based on a Lee Child novel. In this film, also adapted from one of the books in the author’s series, our titular protagonist is determined to clear the name of his longtime military contact.
No sooner has Reacher shown up for a potentially romantic dinner with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), than he learns she’s been framed for espionage and imprisoned. Of course he kicks and punches a bunch of people while breaking her out of prison, and then they’re on the run. But not before they pick up Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a 15-year-old girl who may or may not be Reacher’s long-lost daughter, and is thus a target for the same bad guys who’re on their tail.
It’s a serviceable plot at best, but the action is nothing to write home about. In the previous film, Christopher McQuarrie staged some memorably brutal fight sequences, but “Last Samurai” helmer Edward Zwick, who’s on directing duties here, brings such a generic, anonymous style to the fights and chases that very little of it leaves an impression. Even the villains here are your stock bad guys; sneering assassins and military bigwigs with none of the menace that Werner Herzog brought to the last film.
Cobie Smulders is beautiful, but she has virtually no chemistry with Cruise. Good thing she’s more than just the romantic interest here, playing a woman as tough and self-reliant as Reacher.
Cruise meanwhile, his signature hundred-watt smile replaced by gritted teeth during most of the film, is as earnest as you expect him to be, dutifully going through the paces. There are stray moments in the film that remind you just why he’s still such a magnetic movie star, but this film does little to add to his wattage.
I’m going with two out of five.