Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a conflicted sequel. Presenting fans with more of the same yet also somehow less, the film breaks the cardinal rule of movies by telling instead of showing and leaves viewers drowning in a sea of lengthy exposition and muted, low-key action sequences.

Tom Cruise again stars as Jack Reacher, a former Army policeman turned modern-day road warrior who is the hero of more than two dozen novels by Lee Child. Traveling 'round the country with his trusty travel toothbrush, he rights wrongs and settles scores according to his own complicated set of morals and ethics. This go-round finds Reacher trying to connect with the current commanding officer of his former unit, Major Susan Turner, played by nerd favorite Cobie Smulders. When he makes a personal appearance in Washington to find her, he discovers she's been imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit. Of course, it's a crime he's quickly implicated in as well, and off we go.

The film's problems arise early. Cruise is in his 50's now, and it's starting to show. Instead of opening with a big fight scene, we just see the aftermath, a trick the film pulls several times. It seems ridiculous, as a fan of the Reacher series, to miss out on the most appealing aspect of seeing the character translated to screen; the brutal impact of his fights, with guns and fists alike. To simply see the clean-up crew coming in after is criminal.

Jack Reacher: NGB also seems to follow the recent curious trend of giving fans of a long-living series the exact opposite of what they want, by taking out the fight scenes and action set pieces and instead introducing Reacher's possible long-lost daughter. Killing (and not in a good way) every scene she's in, the sullen-faced teenager cries, argues, and pouts her way through the movie, presenting Reacher simultaneously with something to fight for and fight against until the final scene.

Speaking of acting choices, Tom Cruise has exactly one facial expression throughout, and it involves clenching his jaw and staring intensely. I'm not sure whatever happened to the actor we saw in Collateral and Magnolia, but he's turned into this bland, old man action star and it's getting to the point I sort of wish he would stop.

I will give the movie this: the plot, at the very least, makes sense. Involving private contractors and shadowy overseas operations, it's a simple plan that works well, until it doesn't. Reacher's still the man the bad guys never expect, but the bad guys themselves are, well, pretty bland as well. Cardboard cutouts of evil, they walk, talk and dress like the bad guys nine-year-olds make up in the backyard. Hell, the main henchmen who chases Reacher the whole movie doesn't even get a name.

And chase him he does, as the whole movie is essentially a series of shots of Cruise and Co. running. And running. And jumping. And falling. Featuring exactly one scene of Reacher with a gun in his hand, and two scenes of him punching someone, this movie is not what I ever expected to see from a Jack Reacher film. When it was over, I REALLY thought the budget had been severely reduced for this one as a way to try and increase profits, but it turns out the budget for this sequel is nearly the same as that of the first film. I have no idea where the money went, but it didn't show up on screen.

As a long-time fan of Lee Child and the entire Reacher series, I'm perplexed by the fact that they can't seem to get this guy right on-screen. I hope the franchise gets a reboot after this one, I really do. It's so simple - Jack Reacher is a massive, six-foot-three linebacker of a man, who's always overlooked as a dumb giant but has the grace of a dancer and the brains of a genius detective. When the brains don't work, the fists always do. Brutally, efficiently, and with a minimum of time and effort. The character is flawed and compelling and, frankly, not represented well by Tom Cruise doing his best jaw-clenching anger face. It might be Tom’s fault overall; he's produced both films as well as starred in them. Get it together, folks, and you'd have a genuine hit on your hands. Instead we get a over-long mess of chase scenes and exposition that I would advise you to catch on Netflix in a few months, instead of giving Paramount or Cruise your money and encouraging them to make more of this bland, boring dreck. Go ruin some other franchise's character, Tom Cruise, and leave Jack Reacher in peace.

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