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Jack Reacher

I completely sympathize with fans of author Lee Childs who are outraged at the casting of Tom Cruise as his series character Jack Reacher, hero of 17 books (so far). I myself am annoyed that a new series based on Donald E. Westlake’s Parker books will star Jason Statham instead of the obvious choice, Russell Crowe. (On the other hand, Liam Neeson has been set to star as Lawrence Block’s alcoholic ex-cop Matt Scudder, so sometimes Hollywood does get these things right.)

There are enough Jack Reacher fans to assure the first movie bearing his name a decent box office. But most people leaving the theater are unlikely to feel the kind of satisfaction one expects from a Hollywood offering during the biggest moviegoing week of the year. It’s strictly B-movie stuff that would look more appropriate at a drive-in during the dog days of summer.

For the uninitiated, Reacher is an ex-military cop (a 6’5” hulk in the books: Cruise is closer to 5’6”) who now lives off the grid, bringing justice to an unjust world. Here he looks into the case of an ex-army sniper who is accused of murdering six pedestrians, seemingly at random, with a high-powered rifle. Having dealt with the accused in the past, Reacher is actually interested in making sure he gets the death penalty for past crimes that went unavenged. But all the evidence he uncovers indicates (as the audience already knows) that the man is being framed.

Whatever makes Reacher a compelling character to millions of readers is lost in translation to the screen, with Cruise the blandest imaginable avenging angel. When he gets worked up he does a low-level Dirty Harry impression, but otherwise the actor can’t tell the difference between a scowl and a smirk. He isn’t helped much by the terrible direction of Christopher McQuarrie, in his first effort behind the camera since the repulsive The Way of the Gun in 2000. McQuarrie also wrote the script, which is a surprise given the amount of trouble he has establishing a consistent tone. At times he seems to be mocking the clichés of the genre, but more often it has the overheated self-indulgence of a lesser Brian DePalma movie. The music in particular is portentous to the point of parody.

If the movie has one saving grace, it’s an appearance by director Werner Herzog as “The Zec,” a bad guy whose role in the plot was never entirely clear to me. He gets to deliver a few ripely absurd speeches and scowl balefully, of which he is more than capable. I assume his fee will go toward funding a new film that he can’t otherwise find backers for, which is something to look forward to.

Watch the trailer for Jack Reacher

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