Tom Cruise is on the prowl in “Jack Reacher.” No, he’s not after the bad guys, although of course his character is, but Cruise is taking dead aim at another franchise to pair with his long-running “Mission: Impossible” series.
He may just have one in “Jack Reacher.”
This film is every bit as preposterous as the “M:I” films but the character is a neat 180-degrees different. Ethan Hunt is a high-tech 21st-century dude. Jack Reacher is an analog guy in a digital world.
He’s off the grid: Jack never uses a credit card, cell phone or a plane to travel. He gets on no one’s logs, printouts or computer screen. He’s a ghost albeit one who shows up just when someone needs him — and others wish he really didn’t exist.
Reacher is the hero of a series of novels written by former British television veteran Lee Child. (He plays a silent desk sergeant in a police station scene here.) This film is based on “One Shot,” the ninth of seventeen books published, dating back to 1997.
The movie makes no extended introduction to Jack’s background and moral crusade. He is vaguely described as an ex-military cop, expert in hand-to-hand combat and weapons, who was enough of a trouble-maker during his Army career to opt out of war zones in favor of roaming America as a kind of lone ranger.
He’s a figure out of any number of westerns. He appears in a new town, instantly comes down on the good guys’ side and straightens things out with his own brand of justice. One that doesn’t take much notice of law courts or juries.
Not that he doesn’t get involved with lawyers. In this instance, the town is Pittsburgh and the distressed woman is a high-powered attorney, Helen (Rosamund Pike), going up against her dad (Richard Jenkins), who just happens to be the D.A. (You imagine the holidays are especially bright and cheery at that family home.)
Against the wishes of her own law firm, she has without any motivation taken on a client who can’t possibly win. In the opening scene, one especially hard to take after the recent senseless tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, a sniper shoots and kills five people seemingly at random in front of the Pirates’ riverfront stadium.
Clues are in such abundance that within hours police detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) can arrest her client (Joseph Sikora). It’s an open and shut case. But before he is beaten into a coma by fellow inmates, the suspect demands the police find Jack Reacher.
Amazingly, he appears without any call for help. Trouble is, Jack says he is coming to “bury” Helen’s client. He knew the gunman in Iraq and knows he is perfectly capable of this heinous crime; indeed he has committed such murders before.
Yet, again without any real motivation other than to keep the story going, Helen hires Jack as her lead investigator despite his animus toward her client. As any viewer will suspect — and indeed the film needlessly tips him off to before Jack even appears — something is very fishy about these “random” murders.
The movie takes off into a fast-paced explosion of tried-and-true thriller elements — brutal fights, car chases, ambushes and shootouts built around corruption and betrayals at the highest level.
While these evoke any number of previous films, “Bullitt” and “The French Connection” spring most immediately to mind, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) stages them all in an exciting and fresh manner.
Take the car chase, a staple of cinema going back to the early silent days. In this one though, not only is Jack chasing a carload of bad guys but a million Pittsburgh cops and a helicopter are chasing him!
Like any good preposterous thriller, the film contains memorable supporting roles. Along with those already mentioned, it’s especially fun to see veteran filmmaker Werner Herzog turn up as an absolute monster and a showy Robert Duvall as an old coot from the target range.
Meanwhile Jai Courtney and Alexia Fast play bad guys who would fit comfortably into a Raymond Chandler novel.
At this stage in his career, Cruise has more or less stopped playing characters in favor of variations on his own movie image. He rolls through his movie with a moment’s hesitation despite the fact his character gets any number of things wrong initially.
He is an Anointed One. In bars every hot babe casts looks of desire at him. On the street a guy shields him from the cops for absolutely no reason other than he’s Tom Cruise — sorry, Jack Reacher. He moves at a metaphorical elevation above the other characters.
He displays his toned physique often enough that even Pike asks him at one point to please put on his shirt. Of course, Pike herself is equally as guilty as she leans over is so many scenes to display her ample cleavage.
As producer and star, Cruise has made a film that is at once a vanity project, possible franchise and, if one is to be honest, a crowd pleaser.
Quibbles? Where to begin?
Plausibility deserts this movie almost from the opening scene. Indeed from the opening scene if you think back on what you finally know is going on once the movie is over.
The city itself becomes a ghost town when the film requires empty eeriness and suspense or crowded with extras when Jack needs to blend in. And never mind the body count, which seemingly goes unnoticed by the media and citizenry.
So it goes as “Jack Reacher” operates in a logic-free zone. Then too, McQuarrie’s direction and Joe Kraemer’s music punch home the big moments with scorn for anything the least bit subtle.
Few will care. This is Tom Cruise, post-Oprah couch bouncing, newly matured into a dark hero above the law. Let’s see how fans respond. A potential franchise awaits.
Opens: December 21, 2012 (Paramount Pictures)
Production companies: Paramount Pictures and Skydance Prods. present a Tom Cruise production
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Jai Courtney, Joseph Sikora, Robert Duvall, Michael Raymond-James, Alexia Fast
Director/screenwriter: Christopher McQuarrie
Based on a novel by: Lee Child
Producers: Tom Cruise, Don Granger, Paula Wagner, Gary Levinsohn
Executive producers: Jake Myers, Ken Kamins, Kevin J. Messick, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Paul Schwake
Director of photography: Caleb Deschanel
Production designer: Jim Bissell
Music: Joe Kraemer
Costume designer: Susan Matheson
Editor: Kevin Stitt
PG-13 rating, 133 minutes