Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Danika Yarosh, Robert Knepper
Running Time: 118 minutes
Release Date: October 21st
Jack Reacher was something of an anomaly, existing in the long forgotten midrange budget of yesteryear, that has been abandoned for the new economic framework stating that movies need to cost buttons or the buyout clause of Neymar. It went toe-to-toe with bigger, more muscular blockbusters yet was more concerned with the method than the mayhem. Its sequel is released a week before Marvel’s latest, a timeframe most franchises would cravenly cower from, but in Tom Cruise, it has the cheat code. In a time when anyone can play an action star in a movie, Cruise is an action star. He may lack the book version’s “six-pack like a cobbled city street and biceps like basketballs”, but he’ll make you believe in heroes.
Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) has adapted Child’s 18th novel Never Go Back, which sees Reacher drawn back into the army when his potential dinner date — yes, this is an actual plot point — and commanding officer at the 110th Military Police Battalion (Cobie Smulders) is accused of espionage. They’re both then thrown into a large conspiracy fronted by the eternally shady private military contractors, all the while watching out for a girl that may or may not be Reacher’s daughter (Danika Yarosh in an utterly thankless role).
Never Go Back resembles T2: Judgement Day in its set-up, clumsily pairing its nomadic loner and force of nature with a questionable love interest and surrogate child, and then sending them on a road trip. The joys of Reacher’s character are in his enjoyment of his antiquated drifter lifestyle: no planes, just Greyhound buses paid for in cash, bed and board in truck stop motels and a revery for diner coffee rivalled only by Agent Dale Cooper. Babysitting a precocious, snarky teen is definitely not one of his finer traits.
What’s noticeable about Never Go Back from the get-go is just how second-rate it is, primarily in its cast which contains a poor man’s Walton Goggins (Robert Knepper) and JobBridge Jai Courtney (Patrick Heusinger). Its budget was boosted by 50% but none of that is to be seen on-screen. Zwick shifts the action from the dull streets of DC to the vibrancy of New Orleans, yet when he gets there, he stages scenes in warehouses, on airstrips and has the final fight on a rooftop, backdropped by a carnival where if you strain your eye enough, you might actually see something interesting happen.
Its main duo make a decent stab considering the trite material they’re working with. Cruise oozes Reacher’s charm and excels in its action scenes, making you believe that every Keysi elbow thrown is as brutal as being brained with a slab of concrete. Smulders is a great foil to Cruise and her take-no-shit attitude puts forward an argument that she should be leading a franchise like this all on her own.
Christopher McQuarrie’s crisp direction isn’t the only thing missing here — his ability to punch up a pulpy script is sorely absent. Highlights of the original are clumsily rehashed, like Reacher’s propensity to make threats over the phone that make Taken‘s Brian Mills sound like a hotel courtesy call. Here, his ultimatums are so absurd Duke Nukem would be embarrassed to utter them. The dialogue is unabashedly B-movie without the self-awareness of their delivery — when Aldis Hodge, playing a MP Major chasing Reacher, delivers the line, “I want to know how they like their eggs, and I want to know it yesterday”, you can see the light slowly leaving his eyes.
There are nineteen more works in Child’s Reacher canon yet to be adapted, but Never Go Back merely makes the argument to, well, never go back.