Sunday, December 23, 2012

JACK REACHER Is Retro Action Movie Comfort Food


- Jack Reacher is one of the most by-the-numbers, predictable action flicks I've seen in a long while. But there's also an undeniable comfort-food aspect to the film, and several moments of over-the-top coolness. What's so strange is that the movie feels like it came out of a time-warp from some long-ago land of Hollywood crime capers. It's definitely a throwback, coming off as a mash-up of everything from Bullit, to Dirty Harry, to Rambo, to 90's procedural thrillers like Kiss the Girls. And Jack, as a character, is sort of a mash-up of all those action-movie archtypes - he's got the smoothness of Bullit, the mean streak of Dirty Harry, and he's an ex-military lone-wolf drifter like John Rambo. So JACK REACHER comes off as feeling a bit bland at times, except that it's got just enough badassery to make it perfect for a rainy afternoon. What I'm saying is - prepare to catch this one on TNT many, many times in the years to come.

Now, one weird thing about JACK REACHER is that the title character, from the books, is supposed to be this big, burly, grizzled badass who stays off the grid and answers to no one. Essentially, this would have been the perfect vehicle for an 80's or 90's-era Kurt Russell. But instead, we get the 50-ish but still lean and boyish Tom Cruise in the part, and it makes for an odd contrast with the material. So much of the dialogue, as written for the screen by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie ... you can hear how it would sound pretty badass if delivered in a Snake Plissken-esque growl. But from the mouth of Cruise, a lot of it lacks much bite. So some of the lines that might otherwise have been grimly funny end up falling a bit flat. The funny thing is that lead actress Rosamund Pike, playing a crusading lawyer, seems to be in full Lifetime Original Movie mode - delivering all of her lines in a breathy manner, bosoms heaving under low-cut tops, seemingly waiting for Reacher to reach over and give er' the jack (sorry, had to say it). All that's needed to complete the old-school action-movie throwback is to have her and Reacher engage in some tastefully silhouetted carnal coupling (alas, McQuarrie shows some restraint there).

But back to Cruise, he's good, and as always, seems to put 110% into the role - but you also wonder if this could have been better with a more grizzled sort of leading man in the role - someone who could make it their own, and make Reacher the action icon that McQuarrie and co. want him to be. Instead, we seem to be watching Cruise as Cruise. And that means that the movie sometimes has an odd effect of making it seem like we're watching a movie less about Jack Reacher, and more about Tom Cruise being the smartest, quickest, baddest dude on the planet. So I feel like Jack Reacher maybe has some potential to be a cool, iconic character. But the way this movie works ... they probably could have held off on calling it Jack Reacher, and just called it TOM CRUISE: THE MOVIE.

The thing is, Tom Cruise does a good Tom Cruise, and even though he doesn't really feel like Jack Reacher, per se, he's still entertaining. And ... he's surrounded by a top-of-the-line supporting cast, all of whom (like Pike, who I spoke of earlier) seem to be having fun going old-school and very much embracing the cheesy nature of the film, while never really winking at the audience. I mean, Richard Jenkins - he seems to be everywhere lately - is quite good as Pike's shift-seeming father, who happens to be the District Attorney. Also good is David Oyelowo, as the lead police officer on the case that Reacher is working. There's also a strong performance from Michael Raymond-James (whoo! - TERRIERS shout-out!) as a lieutenant of the lead bad guy, and from Jai Courtney as his main muscle.

Speaking of the lead bad guy, holy crap. WERNER HERZOG is the Big Bad in this movie, and he infuses this otherwise straightforward flick with a heaping helping of crazysauce. He is awesome. If only he had even more screen time ... although I also suspect that Herzog might be most effective in small doses. Every time he says something awesome - like his story about having to cut off his own fingers to survive imprisonment in a Siberian prison ... he leaves you wanting more.

Also ... Robert Duvall enters the picture about three-quarters of the way through the movie, and he, also, is pretty awesome. As anyone who reads my movie reviews knows, I am a sucker for movies in which an old guy gets to kick ass one last time. And this movie has such moments for the great Duvall, and basically gives the legendary actor a perfect role in the film where he can come in, be badass, and get in some great little lines laced with the wisdom of a man who's done and seen it all.

Like I said, there's a real comfort-food quality to the movie. There's something to be said for the simple pleasures of an action movie with no CGI, with a measured slow-burn pace, with no rapid-fire cuts or editing, and with twists that are predictable, but still sort of satisfying in their predictability. This is a total "movie" movie, the kind where you'll yell things like "oh, I bet *he's* the inside-man!" to your friends whole watching, and you'll probably be right. The plot is a twisty but pretty straightforward yarn, about an old army associate of Jack's who's been accused of carrying out a mass sniper-rifle killing spree. Jack hears about the case and decides to investigate, and as it turns out there's a lot more to the crime than meets-the-eye. Eventually, he's hired on by the lawyer representing the accused sniper as an investigator, and goes about uncovering the truth behind the killings. As for Jack, the movie spends a lot of time mythologizing him - he's a drifter with no car and no real record. He buys clothes at goodwill and takes the Greyhound bus system, riding across America. He answers to no one. He's a killer when he needs to be, but he's got his own code of justice.

JACK REACHER stumbles in a number of scenes - with a lot of clunkiness and cheesiness. It's overlong, and takes its sweet time in arriving at its admittedly exciting finale. But the movie's also got enough badassery - some solid action, great turns from Herzog and Duvall - to make this worth checking out. Not a movie-of-the-year candidate, but a fun little retro dip into old-school action movie familiarity. Like I said, the perfect movie for a rainy afternoon on the couch.

My Grade: B

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