Monday, January 20, 2014


(US - 2014)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh.  Written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp.  Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Colm Feore, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Peter Andersson, Alec Utgoff, Nonso Anozie, Elena Velikanova, Gemma Chan, David Paymer, David Hayman, Kieron Jecchinis. (PG-13, 105 mins)

Bounced from the busy Christmas 2013 schedule and dumped in January, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is the second reboot of Tom Clancy's "Jack Ryan" series, and the first since 2002's THE SUM OF ALL FEARS.  In that film, Ben Affleck played a younger version of the CIA analyst previously portrayed by Alec Baldwin in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) and, in the best Ryan incarnation, Harrison Ford in PATRIOT GAMES (1992) and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1995).  Now, in SHADOW RECRUIT, essentially a re-reboot, Chris Pine is introduced as a collegiate Jack Ryan, who enlists in the Marines after 9/11.  When he's shot down over Afghanistan and heroically saves two soldiers even with a broken back, he's visited at Walter Reed by CIA official Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who presents an offer:  go back to school to get his doctorate in economics and work for the CIA as a covert agent on Wall Street, where his job will be to monitor global financial accounts to search for transactions that may be tied to terrorist activity and the funding of sleeper cells in the US.

Cut to a decade later, as Ryan spends his days at a desk analyzing market trends, financial algorithms, and bank accounts, but still isn't allowed to divulge his CIA status to fiancée Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley).  The pair met when she was a med student working in physical therapy during his post-Afghanistan recovery.  Their relationship and Ryan's need for secrecy get even more complicated when he has to go to Russia on a CIA job to audit the accounts of investment broker Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) after noticing some inexplicable inconsistencies in their market performance.  Cherevin has stockpiled billions of dollars in a series of secret accounts at the behest of a group of old-school Russian politicos led by Sorokin (Mikhail Baryshnikov).  Their plan is to launch a terrorist attack as a distraction while using these secret accounts to bankrupt the United States.  What was supposed to be a simple audit turns into a major situation when Ryan is nearly killed by Embee (Nonso Anozie), sent by Cherevin to ostensibly serve as Ryan's driver and bodyguard but instead given instructions to eliminate him.  Ryan gets the upper hand and kills Embee and is met by Harper, who's been nearby the whole time.  "You're operational now," his mentor informs him as he hands him a gun.  There's another problem: Cathy has decided to show up in Moscow on a hunch that Ryan is having an affair.

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is the first film in the Ryan franchise that isn't based on a novel by Clancy, who died in 2013.  It's an original screenplay by David Koepp and Adam Cozad, and it's pretty clear that it's heavily influenced by the BOURNE series and Daniel Craig-era 007.  As directed by Branagh, who seems to have taken a respite from Shakespeare adaptations to reinvent himself as a genre gun-for-hire after 2011's THOR, SHADOW RECRUIT is brisk popcorn entertainment that moves along at such a relentless clip that it's easy to overlook its many derivative and frequently ludicrous elements.  There's nothing here you haven't seen before--from the shaky-cam (but still watchable) action sequences to Ryan's improbable metamorphosis from desk-jockeying numbers nerd to Indestructible Action Daredevil to the rapid-fire brainstorming of the analysts as they pinball ideas around to figure out the location of the terrorist attack and have all the info they need instantly available on their laptops (of course, Cathy's the one who figures it out) to Ryan's sweat-on-the-brow high-tech break-in at an impregnable fortress of an office to steal computer files as Harper is observing from a nearby building to gravely intone "Five minutes, Jack," and "He's on the move...two minutes, Jack." It's almost as if the filmmakers are working from a checklist instead of an actual script.  They also don't seem to trust the audience with too much in-depth information:  this is one of those films that opens with a shot of Big Ben, the Palace of Westminster, the Westminster Bridge, and the London Eye ferris wheel, yet still feels the need to include the caption "London."   Of course, soon after that, there's an aerial shot of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline accompanied by a helpful "New York City." 

Nonetheless, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT still works even as it becomes increasingly ridiculous and predictable in its second half.  As shown in UNSTOPPABLE and the new STAR TREK films (even the terrible INTO DARKNESS), Pine has a genuinely engaging screen presence that works in his favor, especially in his scenes with Costner, who seems ready to gradually settle into elder statesman-type roles with grace and class as he approaches 60.  Costner is still youthful enough that he probably could've almost played Jack Ryan had they kept the character in the Baldwin/Ford age bracket of the 1990s Ryan films, but he and Pine have a credible teacher/student chemistry that's very likable, especially with Harper's occasional good-natured griping to Ryan ("Any way you can wipe that boy-scout-on-a-field-trip look off your face?").  Knightley doesn't have much to do other than nag and get kidnapped, which you'll see coming (and speaking of nothing to do, what's with 1993 MR. SATURDAY NIGHT Oscar-nominee David Paymer buried in the credits with a ten-second, two-line walk-on as a Wall Street analyst?).  Branagh the director could've done a better job of keeping Branagh the actor from hamming it up.  He doesn't go overboard but the Russian accent is laid on a little thick at times and the character is handled with clichés (of course, he's introduced listening to opera and beating the shit out of an underling), and he occasionally comes off as more of a psychotic Bond villain than a genius financier and international criminal.

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