'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back'
‘Jack Reacher’ might have made buckets of cash a few Christmases ago because the Tom Cruise production starring Tom Cruise featured Tom Cruise beating up bad guys in Tom Cruisian fashion. However, it wasn’t very good. Nonetheless, money talks and bad movies walk, so ‘Jack Reacher’ made just enough to justify a thoroughly unnecessary sequel. Now it’s here and it stinks. With a little luck the title will come true and Cruise will indeed never go back to Jack Reacher.
Even in the first movie, Cruise was wildly miscast as Lee Child’s beloved giant drifter with a sense of justice. It was kind of hysterical to watch everyone seem frightened of the tiny, middle-aged movie star. The movie played mostly as an accidental comedy about Cruise’s outsized ego.
‘Jack Reacher 2: Macho Boogaloo’ is practically a parody of dated action movie ideals, only without any sense of the winking self-parody that even walking slabs like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone slipped into their beefcake B movies. Once again, Cruise portrays Jack Reacher, a folk hero of sorts who we’re supposed to consider iconic because we’re endlessly told that this guy is to be feared. This time, he finds himself wrapped up in some sort of vast conspiracy involving drugs and arms smuggling or something along those lines. It doesn’t really matter. This is one of those movies where bad guys do bad things because they are inherently evil and viewers are merely expected to accept the genre stupidity at face value because we’ve fallen for it before.
Anyhoo, Reacher is on the run and gets caught up in a dastardly plot so evil that the shadowy figure of moral fists of fury just can’t help himself from stopping. Along the way, he finds himself in a reluctant partnership with Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, whose actual name is a better action heroine moniker). Since they’re forced to fight bad guys on the run together, they bicker and bond in ways that are supposed to feel like screwball romance but never really do. The jokes aren’t funny and the stars have zero chemistry. It’s like a 12-year-old boy’s version of movie romance, with all the icky stuff that would put off a prepubescent boy removed to allow more time for face pounding.
Not that there’s much in the way of decent action here. Director Edward Zwick (subbing in for Christopher McQuarrie, who at least had some sense of absurdity last time) is known for grand sweeping epics, which you’d think should translate well to comic book boom boom. However, the limited resources at the filmmaker’s disposal are very visible. The movie looks cheap and the action is unsatisfying. It would be fine if this was a low-budget flick striving to look bigger, but this is supposed to be a Hollywood pulse-raiser. The relentlessly dumb dialogue is downright irritating as well, with lines like “We need to ditch the car and get into my email” neither feeling like camp comedy nor macho absurdity. The whole thing just feels very lazy, the product of a bunch of slumming veterans and up-an-comers going through the action movie motions and hoping that their clichés feel nostalgic.
Even for those still enamored by the cult of Tom Cruise, ‘Never Go Back’ feels like a failure. He was always miscast in this brooding anti-hero role. He’s simply too famous a slice of American pie to look like a grumbling outsider rejected by society. The ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise still works because Cruise’s persona is very much as outsized and iconic as James Bond’s (plus, you know, he does those stupidly dangerous stunts to keep us excited). The hulking dullness of Jack Reacher robs Cruise of his natural charisma. A silent malevolent Clint Eastwood-style threat this guy is not, even if you stick him in a leather jacket and paint on some facial scars.
‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ is probably the lowest low of this down period in Tom Cruise’s career. It’s a boring, flatly shot and hopelessly clichéd action movie that should have debuted direct-to-VOD starring a professional wrestler. It’s only in theaters through Tom Cruise’s sheer force of will. If the guy keeps insisting on elevating crap like this, he won’t have the power to do that much longer and will soon join Nicolas Cage as the king of bad B-movies you watch on Netflix for a laugh before getting bored halfway through.