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Film review: Jack Reacher**
Tom Cruise is too short for Jack Reacher, claimed the pundits, citing the series of bestselling books by Lee Child (never read them; hadn’t even heard of them till last week) in which Jack is apparently some sort of hulking brute. This is nonsense, however. Tom’s (lack of) height may be noticeable to fans of the books, but Tom Cruise isn’t too short for Jack Reacher – Tom Cruise is too smart for Jack Reacher. Cruise has always seemed like exactly what he is, the scrubbed-clean embodiment of go-getting capitalism. His breakout role in Risky Business cast him as a teen who turns his parents’ home into a (very profitable) brothel, and he’s been hatching plans and using his head ever since. Even his action heroes tend to be smart cookies, whether mastering fighter planes in Top Gun or employing state-of-the-art technology in the Mission: Impossible films.
Not so Jack Reacher. He’s a sleuth, of course, an investigator called in (at the suspect’s request) when a sniper kills five apparently random people; he has his moments of piercing brain-power – but he’s mostly a tough guy, a loner who stays in the shadows unless provoked, then turns into a bruiser. An entire scene is staged (unconvincingly) to show Tom as a badass, forced into a bar-brawl with five burly guys whom he then beats up ruthlessly. I need to see some identification, says an obnoxious clerk a little later, refusing to co-operate: “I want to see something!”. “How about the inside of an ambulance?” snarls Jack in response. Tom Cruise threatening people with brute force? How very un-Cruise-like.
Tom Cruise is wrong for Jack Reacher in another way as well: he turns this into a Tom Cruise vehicle – hence a big deal – when it should be a B-movie. Some critics claim that it already is a B-movie, meaning that as a compliment (it got surprisingly good reviews), but no B-movie has a running-time of 130 minutes. In truth, Jack Reacher is a bloated beast, done in by plotting that veers from leaden to actively ludicrous.
Too much talk, for a start. There’s a patch early on when our heroine (Rosamund Pike), the lawyer defending the alleged sniper, has a pointless conversation with the father of one of the victims – where he basically says ‘You’re a horrible person’, and she turns and flees – then another pointless conversation with her own father, the DA (Richard Jenkins), who spouts clichés like “You’re making a mistake, you can’t win this case”. That’s five minutes which could’ve been cut altogether. Almost all the dialogue thuds, especially Tom’s would-be witty banter. “I’m Sandy,” says a girl in a bar. “So was I. Last Friday, at the beach,” retorts our hero with a straight face. The Tom Cruise of Cocktail would’ve been appalled.
That ludicrous exchange comes straight from the book (Lee Child’s One-Shot), according to Google – except that, in the book, Jack merely thought that lame rejoinder to himself instead of speaking it aloud, which makes a difference. Maybe writer-director Christopher McQuarrie reckoned that Tom Cruise could get away with ludicrous dialogue – or maybe no-one realised just how ludicrous this movie is, reaching a kind of demented peak when we meet the Bad Guy (played by the great, heavily-accented German filmmaker Werner Herzog). The Bad Guy is displeased with a minion, but will give the minion a chance to escape with his life if he (the minion) will show his will to survive by chewing off his own fingers; the Bad Guy, in a Blofeld-meets-Solzhenitzyn twist, explains that he himself chewed off his fingers in a Siberian labour camp, holding up his hand to illustrate. The minion, understandably, finds it hard to comply, and is promptly shot. The Bad Guy shakes his head in bewilderment: “Al-vays zee bullet. I don’t understand…”
That kind of scene could work in a cheesy 80s action thriller – and Jack Reacher does seem to be half-trying for that vibe (Ms. Pike leads with her cleavage at one point). But it’s a fine line between unpretentious pulp and just plain mediocrity. The opening scene, where the sniper selects his victims – we follow his point of view through the cross-hairs of a rifle, pointed at random pedestrians; will it be this person? maybe that person? – is easily the film’s high-point, because it’s imaginatively nasty like a good B-movie should be. The rest is stilted, obvious and increasingly tiresome, with Tom Cruise flaunting his fit 50-something body (“Put a shirt on,” says Pike, distracted) and indulging his remote, chilly side (Slutty young girl: “Who are you, mister?”; Tom, pensive: “I’m just a guy who wants to be left alone”). Then he’s being chased by the cops, ditches his car and ducks into a bus stop where he joins the waiting passengers (some guy lends him a baseball cap) and instantly becomes invisible, swallowed up by the crowd: Tom Cruise, just another vertically-challenged guy at the bus stop. You’re not fooling anyone, you know.
DIRECTED BY Christopher McQuarrie
STARRING Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins
US 2012 130 mins