Directed by: Edward Zwick
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements
Tom Cruise has produced a new Jack Reacher film, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.” This is a sequel to the mostly-overlooked film he produced in 2012, “Jack Reacher.” Both are based on the books by Lee Child, but book fans will probably find a lot to irritate them here. This is a decent action movie, with good fight choreography and a subversive feminist streak (especially as compared with the book).
The plot revolves around Major Turner (Cobie Smulders, familiar to MCU fans for her work as Agent Maria Hill), a military police officer who uncovers corruption involving a government contracting company and winds up with a target on her back. She and Reacher are not-quite-friends, but he cares enough about her that when he realizes what’s happening, he springs her from military jail and sets about proving her innocent. Along the way, he’s framed for murder, and discovers that the bad guys think teenager Samantha (Danika Yarosh) is his daughter. He and Turner pick up Samantha and add keeping her safe to their to-do list.
There’s a small, surprising feminist streak in the film, especially as compared to the book. Reacher and Turner have a light flirtation as the film opens, but once they’re on the run, it’s completely business. Turner teaches Samantha some self-defense (which she puts to good use), and when Reacher tries to sideline Turner from doing anything, she reads him the riot act and he later apologizes. All of this is tucked into nooks and crannies between gunfights, cool-under-fire quips, hand-to-hand combat, car chases, and general action awesomeness, so it’s easy to miss.
As an action movie, “Never Go Back” is solid, if a bit unoriginal. Those gunfights, quips, combat, and chases are well done, and the production values are high. Where the film stumbles is in its acting – Cruise’s acting in this is wooden at best, and consists largely of clenching his jaw so we can see the muscles in his cheeks move. He often squints as well, but this tends to make him look confused rather than moody or interesting. This would be fine except that Yarosh is a talented actress working with a somewhat complex and layered character, and she actually makes Samantha interesting and sympathetic. It makes Cruise look bad, as she’s opposite him in pretty much every major emotional scene.
Most folks don’t go to action movies for their acting, though, so it’s not all that heavy a strike against “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.” If you’re missing summer action flicks, this will almost certainly scratch that itch. If you’re looking for quality acting, you probably already know better than to look for it in a Cruise vehicle, especially an action movie Cruise vehicle.