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‘Jack Reacher’: Thriller or snoozer?

Bert B. Sulat Jr.

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

The latest from actor-producer Tom Cruise, an entertaining enough flick, could be the start of a new action series

CREAMY MEETS DREAMY? Rosamund Pike and Tom Cruise make for a striking pair. All movie stills from Paramount Pictures

MANILA, Philippines – One of two big-budget, novel adaptations out in local cinemas this week is “Jack Reacher,” the first big-screen translation of what has been a hit series for British author Lee Child. (The other film? Something any child can watch, “Life of Pi”.)

Here’s a brief primer-slash-review of “Jack Reacher” through a 10-point breakdown:

10. Who is Jack Reacher? 

Jack Reacher is basically a big badass.

In the books, whose titles include Bad Luck and Trouble, A Wanted Man and Die Trying, he is described as a 6’5”, blond, hulking figure, a former US military police major who became part of a “special investigations unit.” 

After leaving the army, Reacher opted to be a drifter in the US, subsisting on little means despite his lethal, army-honed skill — his wandering state symbolic of how soldiers are said to be directionless once discharged and filled with mental scars of war.

Watch an interview with Tom Cruise on the character here:

In “Jack Reacher,” the character is similar save for one distracting detail: He is played by Tom Cruise. 

While one can overlook the reported gripes of book fans about the Hollywood star not matching the novel protagonist’s physical attributes (the movie hardly tries, actually), what is all the more notable is, try as he might, the absence of grit in Cruise’s face, of a seething, grim determination in his portrayal of Reacher. 

In other words, like a lot of movies featuring the 50-year-old Cruise, the dashing actor overshadows the character. It’s more of Cruise’s celebrity wattage that prevails instead of Reacher’s own emotional baggage.

9. Now’s my chance, Cruise might have thought, Part 1

DRIVE ANGRY. Cruise + Camaro = car chase

“Jack Reacher” is based specifically on the 2005 book One Shot, the 9th of Child’s 17, standalone Reacher novels. 

Actor-producer Cruise and cohorts probably smelled the chance to seize a cash cow along the lines of James Bond, thus this first in what might become a lucrative film franchise. (Agent 007’s own celluloid debut, “Dr. No,” was not based on the first ever Bond novel, either.) 

The gaping differences between page and screen versions aside, “Jack Reacher” is an entertaining enough indication that the foreseen silver-screen series could stand on its own.

8. The secret ingredient: writer-director Christopher McQuarrie

MANO A MANO, WOH-OH-HOH. Jai Courtney and Tom Cruise exchange wet blows

Novelist Lee Child — who has an amusing “Jack Reacher” cameo as a police desk sergeant who simply shrugs his shoulders (will he do a Stan Lee and appear in all “Reacher” flicks?) — has penned what has been widely hailed as an addictive potboiler series. 

Yet “Jack Reacher” as an engaging motion picture is creditable to Christopher McQuarrie, who marks his 3rd directorial foray amid extensive scriptwriting experience following his Oscar-winning script of “The Usual Suspects.” 

McQuarrie, who had directed Cruise for “Valkyrie” and will do so anew for “Mission Impossible 5,” is able to do the fairly highwire act of balancing Reacher’s constant turns between being plausible and preposterous, avoiding the path of narrative ludicrousness taken by the two “Taken” movies. (Speaking of which, “Taken” star Liam Neeson, a towering, brooding presence, would have been a more fitting Reacher.) 

Special mention: “Jack Reacher” cinematographer, Academy Award-nominated Caleb Deschanel, studs the film with well executed long shots and tight shots that are functional in a non-gimme-an-Oscar way.

7. Now’s my chance, Cruise might have thought, Part 2

SHOOT, IT’S HIM. Tom Cruise takes dead aim in Jack Reacher

Visceral: that’s one way to describe Jack Reacher.

As McQuarrie orchestrates it, much of its action tips towards resonance and realism, the smackings and shootings often depicted with such virtual, in-your-ear-and-face rawness that adds considerable tension to certain moments. 

In short, this appears to be Cruise’s own “Bourne Legacy,” but thankfully, McQuarrie is uninterested in jerky, handheld camerawork.  

6. Enthusiasts would be thrilled

Gun and automobile enthusiasts, that is. 

Firearms are shown and discussed in some detail, topped by two scenes at a firing range, which would make arms bearers all ears. 

Driving diehards would get a rise as well with two adrenalized scenes that use and abuse a Chevrolet Camaro and then a Mercedes-Benz hard enough to inspire crazed enthusiasts to ponder a foundation for the prevention of cruelty to cars.     

5. The bad guy is pretty good

TIME TO SHINE. Today, it’s ‘Jack Reacher,’ tomorrow it’s ‘Die Hard’ for Jai Courtney

“Spartacus: Blood and Sand” star Jai Courtney is a key supporting actor in “Jack Reacher” and an amusing dead ringer for American Idol winner Philip Philips.

Courtney gets quite a warm-up in “Reacher,” a casual yet prominent portent of things to come prior to his bigger turn next month as John McClane’s son in “A Good Day to Die Hard.”

4. The director is acting 

SITTING NOT SO PRETTY. Director Werner Herzog is on camera as a ‘Jack Reacher’ foe

Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog indulges in a calm, faux-menacing turn in “Jack Reacher.” 

While the septuagenarian German has acted in quite a number of movies, he is still a refreshing inclusion here. (Cruise apparently had better luck convincing Herzog than Cameron Crowe did when he wooed acclaimed director Billy Wilder to be in the Cruise starrer “Jerry Maguire.”) 

Considering how lifelong-discriminating a director Herzog has been, you’d wish you could ask him why he opted to take a role in Cruise’s pulp project.

3. Some of the other actors are interesting

JUST STANDING THERE. Tom Cruise, Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo in ‘Jack Reacher’

Most of the film’s main supporting cast are confined to signature expressions: David Oyelowo as an ever-suspicious detective glares a lot, the always-engaging Richard Jenkins as a weathered district attorney frowns a lot, Rosamund Pike as a younger lawyer talks a lot (her creaminess and cleavage are showcased as saving graces) and Robert Duvall, in his few tailend scenes, shoots a lot, be it from his mouth or a rifle. 

It’s the other, largely random actors who are actually more interesting: a grizzled man who lends Reacher a baseball cap, a dude who verbally abuses his girlfriend on a packed bus, and Alexia Fast, who neatly portrays an innocent, pretty young thing well enough to seem to be just playing herself.

2. Bad luck, bad timing

“Jack Reacher” opens with a gripping, terrifying scene: an unidentified sniper shoots people across a vacant parking garage, killing 5 civilians — an unfortunate, coincidental echo of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murder last December 14, 7 days before the film’s US release date. 

To add to what must have been Cruise and co.’s facepalm chagrin, “Reacher” even has an ill-fated character named Sandy.

On that note, “Jack Reacher” also shares an affinity with “Life of Pi” — a portrayal of something that has taken place in real life that would strike many viewers, Filipinos or not, as hitting much too close to home: a senseless shooting spree in “Jack Reacher” and a sea tragedy in the case of “Life of Pi.” 

1. There’s more than meets the eye

Watch the trailer of ‘Jack Reacher’ here:

Part of Jack Reacher’s appeal in print and now onscreen is his investigative skill, which have led film critics to liken the “Reacher” movie to “Sherlock Holmes” and TV’s “CSI.” 

In the process, “Jack Reacher” implies that things are not always what they seem, that there’s merit in reading between the lines, and that exhaustive analysis trumps easy assumption. 

If only for that point, “Reacher” viewers would leave the theater cerebrally richer. –

(“Jack Reacher” opened in Philippine cinemas on January 9.)

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