Based on the novel One Shot by Lee Child, Jack Reacher brings the military-themed procedural, popularized on TV by NCIS and others, to the big screen. James Barr (Joseph Sikora), an ex-military sniper, is arrested for apparently having murdered six random people in Pittsburgh. Barr refuses to talk to police investigator Emerson (David Oyelowo), but only asks that they “Get Jack Reacher.” As Emerson says to District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins), “Jack Reacher is a ghost. You don’t find this guy unless he wants to be found.” Immediately after these words pass Oyelowo’s lips, Tom Cruise walks through the door. “I’m Jack Reacher.”
The scene is played for a laugh, but it more or less sums up the consistency of the rest of the film. That is, something is explained, that thing happens, usually involving chance or circumstance, all the while a bevy of witty one-liners are exchanged. Reacher, infallible supercop of mystery, is more a collection of quirks than a real character. He doesn’t shop with credit, lives off the grid, has a photographic memory, and has a way with the ladies that is abhorrently sexist, unless said lady is one in distress. Reacher becomes the lead investigator for Barr’s attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), who also happens to be the DA’s daughter. Reacher becomes convinced of Barr’s innocence and begins to unravel a conspiracy of sorts. The shadowy mastermind is known as The Zec (Werner Herzog), but the film never really fleshes out the source of his villainy, which leaves Herzog to play a stereotypical cold-war Russian. It’s a criminal underuse of Herzog, whose menacing performance is by far the best in the film.
One-liners and ridiculous characterization aside, Jack Reacher‘s biggest problem is that it never functions as a real mystery. The audience knows too much, too early, and it takes Reacher another half hour to catch up. What’s worse is that the audience has the knowledge and the film still pretends we’re in the dark. This leads to very pedantic dialogue that over explains and complicates what is essentially a fairly straightforward story. There are some other red herrings and shenanigans along the way, but by then much of the narrative tension is eliminated, giving the feeling that the film is running out of steam rather than coming to a boil.
Much of the sluggishness may have been averted had the film’s tension come not from figuring out what happened, but how the characters can achieve justice without crossing their legal and/or moral boundaries. However, since Jack Reacher believes himself outside or above the law, and has no time or care for moral scruples, that doesn’t really come into play except in halfhearted protests from Helen.
Another odd paradox can be found in Jack Reacher’s tone. This film is bipolar, not quite sure if it wants to be a serious crime thriller, or a guffaw-inducing Expendables riff. The violence is brutal at times, and even gut-wrenching, but there is one scene involving a baseball bat and a crowbar that almost certainly originated as a Three Stooges skit. The humor itself actually works really well, but the whole film never abandons reality enough to embrace its Commando impulses.
Jack Reacher could have been a fun popcorn flick, but it never rises to the occasion, deciding to talk down to its audience rather than engage it.
Jack Reacher is now playing in Philly-area theaters.
“This is the business we’ve chosen!” Jill Malcolm and Ryan Silberstein, two self-described film aficionados, tell it like it is about the latest and greatest movies. They are Contributing editors here at Cinedelphia, writing partners, and founders of Filmhash.com.