(US/China - 2016)
Directed by Edward Zwick. Written by Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Robert Knepper, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Madalyn Horcher, Robert Catrini, Jessica Stroup, Austin Hebert. (PG-13, 118 mins)
Released at Christmas 2012, JACK REACHER was the first big-screen adaptation of the popular character from a series of books by Lee Child. Much was made of Tom Cruise not exactly being the 6' 5" wall depicted in the novels, but the movie was a smart and action-packed throwback with a refreshing 1970s approach that involved doing as much practical stunt work as possible, right down to an old-school car chase from the FRENCH CONNECTION school. It also performed under expectations at the American box office, and though it made $80 million against a $60 million budget, analysts still considered it somewhat of a flop compared to Cruise's track record, with the likes of his MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series. JACK REACHER proved to be a blockbuster hit overseas, particularly in Asia, which is probably the reason we're getting a sequel that American audiences really weren't demanding. Budgeted at just under $100 million for some reason, with a good chunk of the financing coming from China-based Huahua Film & Media Culture and the Shanghai Film Company, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is based on the 2013 novel Never Go Back, the 18th in the Jack Reacher series. It certainly doesn't look like something that cost nearly $100 million, and unlike most US/China co-productions, an incongruous and prominently-billed Asian pop star isn't on hand to play a character briefly and cumbersomely shoehorned into the story, though the version released in Asia is probably different.
bling-bang of BLOOD DIAMOND), gets the job done but doesn't bring the snappy wit that USUAL SUSPECTS writer Christopher McQuarrie brought to the first REACHER (McQuarrie is one of the committee of producers on NEVER GO BACK). Cruise is pretty much the whole show here and much of the film is in service to his ego, whether it's his name mentioned no less than three times in the opening credits or the now-obligatory scenes of the still-youthful-looking 54-year-old running. Smulders is a solid foil who handles herself well in the many action scenes, but NEVER GO BACK stumbles a bit with Yarosh's Samantha. The actress herself is fine but her character's main function--aside from being absolutely unable to even--is to do stupid shit that alerts The Hunter or Harkness to their whereabouts, whether it's sending a text on a phone she knows she shouldn't have, or using a stolen credit card to order room service while Reacher and Turner are out trying to clear their names. Samantha is also the source of the script's biggest plot hole, one that's glossed over by Zwick and co-writers Marshall Herskovitz and Richard Wenk in the hopes that the audience will just forget about it. JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK isn't trying to be an original piece of work--otherwise, it wouldn't include a brawl at a warehouse that looks like an abandoned set from a Nine Inch Nails video, and the final showdown between Reacher, Turner, and Harkness' Parasource assholes wouldn't take place at a wharf--but despite its many familiarities and predictable developments, it's always fun to see badass characters just plowing their way through bad guys (Reacher punching a guy in the face through a rolled-up driver's side window is a highlight), and Cruise and Smulders are a likable team. Bonus challenge for when this hits Netflix streaming: drink every time someone says "Reacher" and see if you make it to the halfway point before passing out.