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"JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK"
(2016) (Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A former Army major helps out his successor when she is wrongly framed for espionage.
PLOT:
Jack Reacher (TOM CRUISE) is a former Army major who still does work from time to time for the military, but is mostly a drifter and mercenary answering only to himself. He has had a phone and e-mail flirtation with his successor, Major Susan Turner (COBIE SMULDERS), for some time and finally decides to travel to Washington, D.C., to take her on a dinner date.

Once there, he learns that she has been court-martialed and is suspected of international espionage. He is immediately suspicious of a colonel (HOLT McCALLANY), who is her interim replacement, and Espin (ALDIS HODGE), an officer who was on Turner's team up until her arrest. All the while, a shadowy figure known as General Harkness (ROBERT KNEPPER) seems to be calling the shots from behind a corporate desk.

At the same time, Reacher learns that he may have a 15-year-old daughter, Samantha (DANIKA YAROSH), who he knew nothing about. When an assassin known as The Hunter (PATRICK HEUSINGER) tries to kill her at her foster home but fails, Reacher realizes there may be a larger conspiracy at play. He busts Turner out of military prison and goes on the run with her and Samantha to try and draw out the real culprits.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
In the very last scene of "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" (uh, what a terrible title for a big-budget sequel that actually wants your cash!), the title character is finally allowed a moment where he flashes a smile. The whole movie, he has been this glum loner, an ex-Army major without a home or family, who drifts from place to place doing mercenary work for his former military contacts. But he finds some measure of joy and connection in those last few seconds of the film. And one woman behind me at my recent screening let out an audible sigh and exclaimed, "Ah! There's THAT smile!"

The smile she is referring to belongs to the film's star, Tom Cruise, and therein lies the central problem with this property. You don't make a movie with Teeth Cruise as your star and NOT have him flash that trademark, movie-star grin until the last flippin' scene! People go to a Tom Cruise action movie because the guy looks like he truly enjoys what he does and we want to live vicariously through him, whether it's Ethan Hunt climbing the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai or hanging onto the side of an airplane for real or Maverick flying fighter jets or Cole Trickle racing cars. His characters not only feel the need for speed. WE feel the need for speed watching him!

But Jack Reacher is a character that works against Cruise's considerable star wattage. This is the kind of glum, introverted character that Jason Statham does well. Some stars like Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson can tone down their dynamic, name-above-the-credits charisma to play these kinds of dour, butt-kickers. Cruise just can't. The actor and the role don't quite fit.

It also doesn't help that "Never Go Back" is SUCH an unremarkable, by-the-numbers flick. Say what you want about the guy, but Tom Cruise doesn't make unremarkable films. He makes event pictures. Here, the whole thing seems small and flat. There's no big set piece, no memorable stunt, no super-cool kill. Cruise even seems to be holding back while doing his trademark, chop-chop-style running when being pursued by the bad guys. Or maybe he's just getting -- GULP! -- old. For the first time, it looks like other characters are slowing down so they don't overtake HIM during the foot chases! And that ain't right.

I had a bad feeling from the opening credits, which looked like they were from a 1980s made-for-TV movie. The film actually starts promising enough with a scene from the trailer of a Reacher taking down a cocky, small-town sheriff who has come to arrest him, but is actually wanted on federal charges himself. Jack has tipped off his successor in Washington, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), and then decides to ask her on a dinner date.

When Jack reaches D.C., he discovers that Susan has been court-martialed for international espionage. He immediately suspects a military-industrial conspiracy has framed her after she got too close to a plot involving weapons, the opium trade, and profiteering in war-torn Afghanistan. Soon, though, he is also framed for a crime he didn't commit and the two have to go on the run.

All the while, Jack is dealing with a 15-year-old named Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who may or may not be his daughter from a brief relationship years earlier. The bad guys have found out about her and threaten her life, as well, dispatching an assassin known as The Hunter (played by Patrick "Who?" Heusinger) who becomes obsessed with one-upping Reacher and being crowned the ultimate, lone-wolf, ex-military bad-ass.

The film largely recycles plot elements from such '80s actioners as "The Living Daylights," "Commando," and "Above the Law." As a Generation Xer, I did enjoy a few of the callbacks. But, again, there's nothing new here. The film can't decide if it's a serious conspiracy thriller or a jokey action throwback. And because there is such a vested interest in keeping Reacher a loner, he and Smulders' Susan Turner are never allowed to give off any real sparks.

Really, all concerned just look like they are going through the motions. This "Jack" doesn't reach at all. And, by the end, I was ready for a new mission in which Cruise's Ethan resumed his hunt. This rates a 4 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed October 18, 2106 / Posted October 21, 2016


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