Tom Cruise is all smugness and steely glares in Jack Reacher.
JACK REACHER (Christopher McQuarrie). 131 minutes. Opens Friday (December 21). See listings. Rating: NN
Jack Reacher is being marketed as the latest Tom Cruise action thriller. But that's not what it is. Jack Reacher is actually a mystery - and the mystery turns out to be why is Tom Cruise making an early-90s actioner that appears to have been written for Steven Seagal?
The role of Reacher - an obnoxiously cocky man of intrigue who swans around Pittsburgh investigating a multiple murder and gets into a series of close-quarters fist fights with various thugs and goons working for an elusive string-pulling foreigner - seems tailor-made for a certain beefy aikido master in his prime.
Or maybe it's just that Cruise's default screen persona (cocky, with a soupçon of pissy determination) has ossified into the same sort of unwitting self-parody that distinguished Seagal's work. Either way, the comparison grows harder to shrug off as Cruise's Reacher wanders around working-class Pittsburgh investigating a quintuple homicide that's being pinned on a sniper he once tracked as a military prosecutor in the Middle East.
Jack Reacher is the sort of movie that positions Cruise as the smartest, noblest, most capable guy in the room. He has no character flaws; he has no character at all, really. But Cruise is at a disadvantage when he tries to play blanks; he falls back on smirks and steely looks, and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie isn't skilled enough to cut them into a performance.
There are three decent action sequences: the opening massacre, which is kept just this side of exploitative; a terse car chase; and a rock quarry shootout that revels in the clichés of rock quarry shootouts. But the bulk of the movie comes down to Cruise stalking around in a leather jacket, trying extra-hard to intimidate co-stars Rosamund Pike (badly miscast as a Defense Lawyer In Over Her Head), David Oyelowo (glowering effectively as a mistrustful cop) and, um, Werner Herzog, the eccentric Bavarian filmmaker, who shows up as a milky-eyed, two-fingered super-villain whose machinations drive the master plot.
I want to say something positive about Herzog's performance. I love the guy, and it's briefly amusing to see him turn up as exactly the sort of exotic, heavily accented heavy who pulled the evil strings in all those old Cannon Films action quickies.
But McQuarrie is using Herzog unironically - and worse, actually wants us to invest in the idea of the all-powerful shadow villain whom all men fear. (Herzog delivers his lines crisply in that wonderful singsong accent, but he doesn't communicate menace as much as a terse impatience.)
Still, Richard Jenkins does his usual masterful job as an exasperated district attorney who's also the father of Pike's character. He brings a lovely world-weariness to their scenes, and I briefly wished the movie had been about their emotionally prickly relationship.
Of course, that'd be a different movie entirely - specifically, Class Action with Gene Hackman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.