The demographics may skew that way, but awful, amateurish fiction is not the exclusive province of angst-ridden teenaged girls turning to the undead as the last word in unavailable romantic figures. As a case in point: Jack Reacher — adapted by director Christopher McQuarrie from Lee Child’s novel One Shot — feels like someone decided to take a pulpy slice of overcompensatingly masculine wish-fulfillment and layer it with some tight, well-executed action set-pieces.
We start with a mass shooting in Pittsburgh, which has occasioned some backlash already given recent events, but it’s unfair to hold the film in any way responsible. The crime scene yields a dozen pieces of evidence, pointing detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) straight at former Army sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora). District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) offers him a choice of a confession to a life sentence or the death penalty; Barr asks for Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), instead.
Reacher is truly a god among men. Supremely confident and capable, he grew up around the world with his father in the Marine Corps before entering West Point, serving as an MP — with just enough dishonor to show how great and dedicated a guy he is even in the face of authority — before resigning and returning stateside for the second time, only to vanish into thin air upon arrival. He does what he wants when he wants. Even the book’s cover blurbs assert that “women love him; men fear him,” proudly proclaiming what a ridiculous, hypertrophied cliché this character is.
Despite being off the grid, Reacher shows up of his own accord; he previously captured Barr for a similar shooting in Iraq and means to make sure he goes down this time. But as Barr requested him, the crusading defense attorney (Rosamund Pike) enlists Reacher’s help as an investigator. Her name: Helen Rodin, the prosecuting DA’s daughter. I wish I were joking.
Of course the fertile crime scene is a little too good to be true, which is pretty clear with even a little bit of critical thinking. What kind of expert sniper would forget how many shots he’d fired and fail to pick up all his brass? Who would not only pay for parking but do so before putting on the latex gloves he wore through the rest of the shooting? Reacher, naturally, begins to pick up on these details before anyone else. He also notices the squirrelly guy following him (Michael Raymond-James) who, as it turns out, works for an enforcer (Jai Courtney) for a shadowy Slavic businessman (Werner Herzog) with a moniker and backstory more befitting a supervillain.
I have to believe that on some level this is a prank. McQuarrie is not this bad a writer; he penned The Usual Suspects, after all. And since it’s an action movie, maybe the plot isn’t really the point anyway. Indeed, the fights and the chases all look great, with a clear, coherent sense of space that comes from not strapping your camera to a pre-teen hopped up on Red Bull, even if that seems to be how it was written.
But everything else is serviceable at best, with the exception of a great performance by Herzog, whose talents seem to finally be getting some recognition in mainstream circles. His character here may have been crap, but Herzog picked up that crap and sold it honestly. I say this role should be considered as an audition as the big bad in an upcoming sequel to Mystery Men.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.