'Jack Reacher' comes up short

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:54 PM ET

Angry Jack Reacher fans were absolutely right: Hiring a Hobbit-sized Hollywood superstar to play giant Jack was a serious error. If someone made that mistake around Reacher, someone would pay in blood.

The superstar is Tom Cruise. Jack Reacher is the fictional character he plays in the new action thriller, Jack Reacher. The eponymous movie is adapted from One Shot, the ninth of 17 Reacher novels written by British author Lee Child. If the movie is a hit, it could kick-start a franchise.

For the uninitiated, Reacher is a former U.S. military crime investigator. Physically (at least in the novels) he is a hulking Adonis. Mentally, he is ace at his job, but also a rogue. So, despite a distinguished service record, he goes off-the-grid returning to civilian life, becoming a homeless Sherlock Holmes. But when a former serviceman is accused of mass murder in Pittsburgh -- using a sniper rifle to shoot six bullets, hitting five human targets -- Reacher is summoned to investigate.

The odd twist is that the accused asks for Reacher's intervention. The odder twist is that the sniper and Reacher know one another from a previous nasty incident, this one involving murders in Iraq. Reacher comes to bury the accused, not save him. Then things gets complicated. Reacher starts turning up disturbing clues. Things are not what they seem.

Reacher finds himself, somewhat reluctantly, working for the accused man's defence attorney (luminuous Rosamund Pike). She has issues with her daddy, the district attorney (Richard Jenkins). The investigating detective (David Oyelowo) is no friend of interloper Reacher. The movie has a shadowy uber-villain, too, played with unrestrained glee by German filmmaker Werner Herzog. He understands that Jack Reacher -- the movie, not the man -- is camp comedy. Ditto for Robert Duvall, who gets involved in a cameo.

Unfortunately, Cruise's attempts at quick-quip comedy are awful. Even when he invades Pike's physical space -- sometimes suggesting sexual attraction -- the punchlines are too weak to make it count. There are some laugh-out-loud moments scattered throughout. But that is because some of the performances are so deliberately wooden and the dialogue is so absurdly blunt.

The weird thing is that Cruise, at least, should know better. He is sometimes brilliant in Mission: Impossible films. Yet there is a difference. Cruise's M:I character is slick and sophisticated in a high-tech world. In Jack Reacher, he is supposed to be gritty and tough in a more "realistic" world. Doesn't work.

One thing Cruise does well is drive. His stunt work in the showcase car-chase sequence in Jack Reacher will convince any viewer he did nearly 100 percent of the driving. But so what? The night-time chase may be old-school, but it is also repetitive and boring.

Jack Reacher, the movie, was adapted from Child's novel by sometimes director Christopher McQuarrie, celebrated for his clever screenplay on The Usual Suspects. He is prolific writing other projects, too. However, directing for the first time since The Way of the Gun (2000), McQuarrie demonstrates in the over-long and under-performing Jack Reacher why he should focus on screenwriting.

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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