The 1990s were such a golden age for one-man shows and military action flicks. Its time has come and gone, but “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” tries to revive it in the worst way.
Tom Cruise returns as the ex-Army major charged to save the day after the woman commanding his former military police unit, Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), is charged with treason, espionage or something like that. Reacher uncovers a conspiracy that links a contractor with high military levels to actions in Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of two of Turner’s soldiers. In the mix is a teenaged girl, Samantha, who might be Reacher’s daughter. She becomes the object of The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), a hitman for Parasource, the contractor in question.
In under two hours, “Never Go Back” packs in every cliché one has seen in a Jack Ryan adaptation, except Cruise is the single guy version of the Harrison Ford character. Actually, that’s an unfair comparison. Reacher, in this case, is more of a Steve Seagal caricature, a tough-talking loner on the mission to save someone.
Cruise and director Edward Zwick trade the battle-tested anti-hero established in the first film for essentially a family man with an edge. Reacher and Turner fight like a married couple over how to dissolve the conspiracy, get answers and protect themselves. The Hunter is a textbook ‘90s villain – a trenchcoat-sporting killer with a silencer. Even some of the locations are old school in a less nostalgic way (it involves an internet cafe). Zwick, whose best films are from the early ‘90s like “Legends of the Fall” and “Courage Under Fire,” may have traveled back in time for inspiration.
The title of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” delivers a mixed message. The sequel to 2012’s action thriller “Jack Reacher” is a solid outing, providing a fitting showcase for Tom Cruise’s charisma and action prowess in his return as the titular character. But the second installment in the franchise strives to be little more than a paint-by-the-numbers adventure.
Based on Lee Child’s novel of the same name, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” catches up with the ex-military drifter who wanders the country doling out justice. Reacher (Cruise) visits his old military stomping grounds in Washington, D.C., to meet Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who has been helping him solve cases. Reacher plans to take her to dinner but instead learns that Turner has been arrested for espionage.
When Reacher starts digging into her case, he is subsequently framed for murder. Reacher and Turner go on the run and uncover a government conspiracy involving illegal arms dealing. As the pair try to clear their names, they must protect Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a teenager who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter, while trying to evade a hitman (Patrick Heusinger) hot on their trail in New Orleans.
“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is fun but formulaic. Like its predecessor, the film isn’t wall-to-wall action. The set pieces are exciting, but not as memorable as the original’s opening scene and motorcycle chase.
In his second turn as Reacher, Cruise knows how to be cool but still charming as the laconic hero. He proficiently tackles his own stunts, as well as some funny one-liners. Reacher acts as a more brutal version of Cruise’s Ethan Hunt from the “Mission Impossible” franchise, minus the flashy sequences.
Read the complete reviews as published in Thursday’s JumpStart!