Film Review: ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise reteams with 'The Last Samurai' director Edward Zwick, reprising a character that unwisely forces him to suppress his natural charisma.

For those who never saw 2012’s “Jack Reacher,” Tom Cruise played a former Army military police commander who, disillusioned with the job, grabbed his toothbrush and hit the road. In “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” it’s been ages since Cruise’s character was discharged, but military types keep trying to salute him, and every time someone in uniform calls him by his former rank, “Major Reacher,” he stiffens a little and responds, “ex-major.”

Cruise has been Hollywood’s top gun for the better part of 30 years, taking no fewer than 17 blockbusters across the $100 million mark in that time. But strike the “Mission: Impossible” series from the charts, and his numbers have been way down in the decade since “War of the Worlds.” (The original “Jack Reacher” made just $80 million, barely half of what “The Firm” earned in 1993.) And while Cruise himself doesn’t seem to age from one film to the next, perhaps it’s time we reclassify the one-time boy wonder as an “ex-major” star.

Yes, he’s kept us entertained as “Mission’s” Ethan Hunt, but in his desperation to generate another franchise, the actor — whose career longevity owes to a savvy understanding of his brand — enlists director Edward Zwick to help him resuscitate the role that suits his appeal least. Zwick excels at epic pageantry; his previous Cruise collaboration, “The Last Samurai,” matched that quality to the star’s persona. But the helmer has never made a flat-out action movie, and he turns out to be shockingly ill-suited for the sort of terse rough-and-tumble that a Jack Reacher outing demands. Christopher McQuarrie, by contrast, managed to wring an impressive car chase, a high-caliber finale, and several other intense set pieces from his meager source material the first time around (his reward: directing Cruise in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”). Alas, Zwick barely manages to tickle our adrenaline, waiting till the climactic showdown amid a New Orleans Halloween parade to deliver a sequence that could legitimately register as memorable.

Otherwise, Reacher is handily upstaged by the other characters here, most notably his 20-years-younger replacement, Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, terrific), who looks like a cross between “The Matrix’s” Trinity and Demi Moore in “A Few Good Men,” and who suffers none of the limits on her own personality wattage.

Immediately following a cold-opening reminder of how Reacher deals with corruption among those in positions of authority, the film softens its drifter protagonist ever so slightly via a series of half-flirty phone calls between him and Turner, in which Reacher promises to look her up in the event that he ever makes it to Washington, D.C. But when he arrives in the nation’s capital, in the very next scene, he learns that Turner has been relieved of her position and court-martialed for treason three days prior. More surprising still, he discovers a surprising detail about his own past: Evidently, an ex-prostitute has filed a paternity claim against him, alleging he’s the father of her now-15-year-old daughter Samantha (Danika Yarosh). And since we know so little about Reacher, there’s no way to assess whether or not the claim is true, except to bring her along.

Indeed, one of the things that makes the character so appealing to his fans is that he has no attachments — he’s an avenging conscience without the Achilles’ heel of socialization. Give him a child, however, and things could quickly devolve into the sort of manipulative melodrama that befell fellow tough guy Jack Bauer anytime his daughter Kim turned up on “24.”

Let’s not forget that Zwick and longtime collaborator Marshall Herskovitz got their start writing for television, which seems to be the primary influence on this strangely uncinematic action movie. Though framed in widescreen and lensed by Oliver Wood (DP on the first three Bourne movies), “Never Go Back” displays none of the style or audacity that lenser Caleb Deschanel brought to the earlier installment. The sequel looks almost grimy by comparison, relying overly on closeups of a star whose range of expressiveness has been limited to two signature moves: a meaningful jaw clench or a well-time narrowing of the eyes. Cruise can still be counted on to frequently sprint on-camera, but here he comes across as a shadow of the star we’ve known him to be.

“TOM CRUISE is JACK REACHER,” read the ads for the 2012 film, and yet, a more accurate description might have been, “TOM CRUISE pretends to be JACK REACHER.” The character that was an awkward fit for the actor four years ago seems to be even more so now, if only because Cruise’s greatest asset is his charisma, while Reacher is a stoic, stone-cold heavy. From Bond to Bourne, such action heroes have become the cliché these days, showing an almost sociopathic lack of feeling as they go about their efficient ultraviolence. But Cruise, who always seems to be half-smiling in everything else he does, seems far too serious in the role, leaving room for the ladies, Smulders and Yarosh, to steal the show.

Better to leave the ruthlessness to the villain, a mercenary hit man (Patrick Heusinger) hired by a corrupt military contractor. The whole mess began with the deaths of two soldiers under Turner’s command — deaths for which she is being held accountable — and as the mystery unfolds, we learn that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that anyone who catches wind of the massive conspiracy, including Turner and Reacher, ends up in the hit man’s cross-hairs. The fact that the scenes are set in three of the most tired action-movie venues imaginable — a kitchen, a warehouse, and a shipping dock— just goes to show the sequel’ lack of inspiration. Even the New Orleans finale is technically a rehash of something James Bond went through in 1973’s “Live and Let Die,” and again, as recently as the superior rooftop opening of last year’s “Spectre.” Cruise and company should have taken their own advice: Never go back.

Film Review: 'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back'

Reviewed at AMC Century City, Los Angeles, Oct. 18, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 118 MIN.

Production

A Paramount Pictures release, of a Paramount Pictures, Skydance Prods. presentation of a Tom Cruise production. Producers: Cruise, Don Granger, Christopher McQuarrie. Executive producers: Paula Wagner, Herb W. Gains, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg.

Crew

Director: Edward Zwick. Screenplay: Richard Wenk, Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, based on the book “Never Go Back” by Lee Child. Camera (color): Oliver Wood. Editor: Billy Weber.

With

Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Robert Knepper.

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  1. JJWatt says:

    The problem with this movie is that Jack Reacher’s bad ass character has been completely diluted by the overwhelming main focus/replacement feminist character. There is nothing wrong with a bad-ass girl kicking butt (which she actually falls totally short of) but it is the 3rd-grader “I’ll show you” emphasis that “kills” everything else. A note to the writers here, if you want to equate female = male hero movie roles then DO NOT continually announce “I’m better cause I’m a girl… blah blah”… just let her go out and martial arts physically dominate, as does Kate Beckinsale in the whole series of vampire Lycans movies.

  2. Robert Smith says:

    One of the worst movies I’ve ever watched, And I’ve been a Reacher book fan since day one.

  3. Jack Reacher says:

    “Never Go Back”? Shouldn’t have. Let’s be fair, it’s not a bad film, it’s just very middle of the road. For me the main problem is the director – Zwick has made some great movies in the past (Glory, Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai), but he’s just not as good an action filmmaker as McQuarrie. So, all the cheesy bits of writing feel tacky, misjudged and amateur, instead of tongue-in-cheek and fun.

  4. Oliver Kaye says:

    I will never be able to see Tom Cruise as a real Jack Reacher let down, someone like Liam Neeson would fit the role perfectly. The fact that Reacher himself is meant to weigh 250 lbs and 6’5 is enough, but he will never be able to fill the role of the character I always viewed in my head when I read the books

  5. Jack Reacher says:

    Jack Reacher” s second installment looks promising in terms of emotion and entertainment. Edward Zwick has showcase a great chemistry between Tom Cruise and Danika Yarosh. Cobie Smulders did a great job. Chase sequences, Fist fighting and dialogue were treat for any Tom Cruise fan.

  6. sely says:

    Watch_Now(((http://bit.ly/2eVBKuQ)))Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Full Movie 2016

  7. homosezwut says:

    I enjoyed first film, but had a hard time liking this one. Too many forced elements in this one for me & the incessant running of the main characters could of been a great element for a drinking game:)

    I like Tom, but this one really felt like it was trying to check too many boxes. Drugdealer/Armsdealer, SuperStrongWoman, StreetsmartTeen & then all of the Defying of Laws of Nature & Time.

    I tried to like it & it started with some promise but by the halfway point I was looking at my watch, and I will be amazed if the Chinese will be into all of the anti-authority stuff. – #wut

  8. Ken Compton says:

    The movie is great and the acting was superb. If only Variety could hire a film critic that wasn’t an idiot. The story was riveting and the casting spot on, the entire theater crowd stood and applauded at the end! Maybe hire a real critic instead of a tool that has an ax to grind against Tom Cruise? Jealous because this critics boyfriend made him go alone or something, what a fag.

  9. Tom says:

    I inadvertently Typed VIN instead of Jim Caviezel. My browser is lagging severely today. My apologies to everyone.

  10. Tom says:

    I personally wish he had NEVER purchased the rights to the Reacher franchise. He can NEVER be Jack Reacher. This series of books would be much more suited to an FX continuing series where the STORY would not be perverted by Cruise’ desire to be the macho man he wishes he could be. Vin Caviezel would be a better choice for Jack Reacher. Calm when needed, full of Fury when necessary.

  11. David Ives says:

    Worst action film ever!! I loved the first film but this is nothing like that. No sprawling action sequences, a car chase thats over before it starts literally, horrible dialogue – the low point being a conversation between Hotel Receptionist and Turner about the availability of a 2 bed suite and whether she could pay in cash – shocking performances from everyone involved – the plot borders on absurdity at times then to top it off we finish with one of the most unrealistic rooftop sets since Mary Poppins stepped in time. This film looks cheap, talks cheap and should be thrown on the scrap heap.

  12. Antony Collingwood says:

    The first film was brilliant, this one was alright, but nothing special, the storyline wasn’t up to anywhere near the standard of the first film, i was disappointed.

  13. riles48@hotmail.com says:

    Have to say Cobie Smulders was not terrific. In fact I felt her performance was forced when trying to be tough or dramatic. The major issue with this film is the script.

  14. Nigel Riley says:

    Great sory and great performance by Tom Cruise. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

  15. Bill B. says:

    The first one wasn’t any good, so I don’t know why many would expect this one would be. His days of making interesting and good films are over. He is just a franchise actor as he ages.

  16. Tell It says:

    The first film wasn’t good enough to warrant a sequel to begin with.

  17. macd says:

    Now we know why this movie has been hidden from the critics!

  18. I had to go back & watch the original Reacher movie. My impression was that *somebody* is jealous over the Bourne series & wants his own “Bourne” look-alike. MIssed the mark by a long shot. I may watch Reacher 2, but as of now I’m rather sceptical.

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  19. Having read all of the Jack Reacher novels, I was extremely disappointed when Tom Cruise was cast in the role – in both films. Reacher is described in the books as 6’5″ and over 250 pounds of muscle with blond hair. That hardly sounds like 5’8″ Tom Cruise. So there is an immediate disconnect for me, and probably most other fans of the books.

    • homosezwut says:

      Never read the books, but if that is his description, man o’ man Tom should recast Dolph Lundrgen for the role since his is still a producer & rights holder for the films & Dolph was made to order for the physical description. Let him rip like they did with you know who in JCVD before the film series dies:)

  20. EJ says:

    No thanks. I’ll wait for John Wick.

  21. It is always irritating to read a critique of a film before I see it. I have since I was a teenager patently resented anyone saying things like, “our” and “we” in a clear attempt to manipulate the dam audiences and also to say what is “good” and “not good” according some “standard” which in facts theirs.

    I have not seen Jack Reacher yet obviously since is not yet out but I remember the first and I liked it which is especially interesting since I am not all that crazy about Tom Cruise but I do and have liked the movies he has benign enough to trust he will make a good film even the critiques don’t like it.

    It has always fascinated me what is the critique try to make the American movie audience want? In order to have another “Avengers” you have to come at the subject from an entirely different angle. You will not be able to top the first one by doing the same things in the second one simply because it was the first one.

    What was surprising and exciting will now be expected on some level so to try and top it that way is in my opinion suicide, which the fact that the sequels of movie across genre have for the most part not been as good as the first one.

    Thing is if you are going to make a series, you need, I think, to imagine the character and the story of which the various films will depict over a sufficient period of time to justify the various nuances so the series will come together as such.

    One of my favorite is the first three Star Trek Movies which I am certain were not conceived this way but when viewed after the fact make a very nice trilogy. Also another series which did this was The Harry Potter series. “Hunger Games” and to a lesser degree “The Divergent” films were the same.

    Critiques need to stop attempting to “prime” audiences for what to look for in a film. Two more series (I hope which at least go to 3 films) are the John Wick series with Keanu Reeves (who interestingly might have been a better choice for Reacher) and the Equalizer series with Denzel Washington.

    The Equalizer by far is the better series so far because Washington’s character is so thorough it’s insane. (A Black man over in Russia taking out the head of the snake before there is even news his shit is fucked in the United States was “new”.

    What a great deal of this comes down to is whether or not the writers have sufficient imagination to come up with the “new” or failing that to come up with a “new” way of doing the old and then if the ‘suits” will let them do what they can do or put the kibosh on their ideas. (Thus is actually where the comic book movies are both those at the movies and those on television..I for one hope they Marvel and DC solve this problem and soon…I have some ideas…)

    Anyway, I will be seeing Reacher Friday for sure no matter what this critic says and I am also as certain I won’t agree.

    Excelsior!

  22. alboyer22 says:

    Saying “take away the Mission Impossible Series” and he’s not a box office draw, like saying “take away the Indiana Jones Series and Harrison Ford has been an average box office draw.” Quite the generalization. Edge of Tomorrow did over a hundred million domestic, and Oblivion did nearly 300 Million world wide, but that doesn’t fit the narrative of this article.

  23. Sam Vann says:

    Jack Reacher did NOT quit, he was phased out. Reacher is 6′ 5″, and Cruise doesn’t come close. Saw the first movie, not bad but NOT Reacher!

    • Tell It says:

      The Harrison Ford comparison is off the mark. Or do the billions of dollars that the “Star Wars” films have made not count either? Harrison Ford is the biggest boxoffice star in history.

  24. Nate says:

    Agree w many of the other commenters: this is more an opinion piece than a film review.

  25. cadavra says:

    Given his somewhat limited range, Cruise playing stoic is likely a nice change-of-pace from his usual Cruise-iness.

  26. SPARE WORD says:

    This review is needlessly spiteful; and I think Lee Child might take issue with the old ‘meager’ source material. I think you mean minimalist. Maybe you haven’t read the books (read one, read them all, but the way Child sets up the story works.)

    No movies do the biz of old… and yes McQ would have been a better choice to direct, but I hear he’s deep in MI territory.

    But this review S**Ks… who cares what you think. Reacher is a great character; yes, a Republican who would probably vote Trump. But we must realize that this is MAKE BELIEVE.

    Perfect example of a journo (the above), with an inflated sense of importance and self worth.

    THANKS FOR MAKING THIS FILM, CRUISE… KEEP AT IT!!! LOVE YA!!!

    XoX

  27. Danny says:

    This is a pretty lame opinion piece rather than being a film review.

  28. This review is too long by a deep paragraph of opinion, not analysis. This wtiter needs an editor. Jack Reacher in the novel is the opposite of To Cruise, but the actor is just that; the first film wirked as a movie.

    Tom was #1 at the box office with “TOP GUN” and decades later with “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE:Ghost Protocol”. Mr. Cruise crosses generations. John Wayne and one or two other actors have ever done that.

    Tom Cruise, for a star-actor, generously shares the screen with fellow actors (upstaged or not) so being subordinate to another character is routine.

    A character leading a sequel evolves, even in ways–er–uncharacteristic, so Reacher is not like one in the book. Never was.

    Either to enjoy Cruise or you avoid him. As a film star, the man is phenomenal. As far as a second franchise goes…the man’s on “a MISSION”.

  29. Joe says:

    Is there a screen credit for the maker of Mr. Cruise’s footwear?

  30. stevenkovacs says:

    Tom Cruise is still very much a ‘major star’! His track record proves it; very few others come close! He doesn’t need to hide behind the size of a project; he puts himself front and center giving 110% everytime which explains his decades of success.

  31. Not Ethan Hunt says:

    These movies are meant for cable consumption. You come across it on Showtime, FX or USA on a lazy Sunday afternoon or a Wednesday night, you get sucked in, and you conclude “that was pretty good.” Then you move in with your life and forget about it, but when the inevitable sequel shows up at the multiplex you know you won’t pay money for it because you can just catch it on cable in a year!

  32. BillUSA says:

    They don’t realize it just yet, but Hollywood puts warning labels on their movies just as tobacco companies are required to do on packages of smoking products.

    Whenever I see “Tom Cruise”, I avoid the film like the plague.

  33. will says:

    The opening of SPECTRE takes place in Mexico City.

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