Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Austin Hebert, Robert Catrini, Robert Knepper
Director: Edward Zwick
Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
When the first Jack Reacher came out I remember there being some controversy over the choice to cast the 5’7” Tom Cruise as the tall, physically dominating protagonist from the Lee Child novel. As someone who had never read these books, I just went in expecting a Tom Cruise movie. By casting Cruise, the studio has made a clear decision that deems Jack Reacher’s character as irrelevant; you will instead be watching Tom Cruise play Tom Cruise. Still, whether you love his movies or hate them, one cannot deny the appeal he has. One of the things I like about Cruise is that no matter what movie he’s in, good or bad, he always gives 100%. In a career spanning almost four decades, not once has this man ever phoned it in. His energy, enthusiasm and charisma are still as palpable today as they were in the 80s and he shows no sign of slowing down. Thus, when a series like Jack Reacher comes along, a series that is so obviously nothing more than a star vehicle, I think it’s worth remembering that Cruise is a star for a reason. He was pretty much born for it.
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is back as he heads over to his military headquarters to meet with a new acquaintance, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). Upon arriving he learns from Colonel Sam Morgan (Holt McCallany) that Turner is being detained under the charge of espionage. At this same time Reacher also learns that a paternity suit has been filed against him, claiming he is the father of the 15-year-old Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh). Believing that Turner is being framed, Reacher infiltrates the prison where she’s being held and breaks her free. The two must go on the run and are forced to bring Samantha along when her connection to her supposed father places her in danger. Together the three of them must evade the military forces pursuing them and uncover the truth behind this conspiracy so that they may clear their names.
As is often the case with these films, the story is almost immaterial. No one really cares about the government conspiracy, it’s just a backdrop that allows Tom Cruise and Cobie Smulders to punch a few faces and run around for a bit. The only thing that really matters is that they have a teenage girl running along with them, creating a family dynamic between three characters who don’t know how to act like a family. This is the film’s strongest point, and its success is creditable more to the actors than it is to the writing. Cruise, for instance, conveys more deeply than the dialogue ever could this idea that Reacher cannot live a normal life. He beats up bad guys because it’s the only thing he’s good at and he’s constantly on the run because he has no responsibilities tying him down or holding him back. He doesn’t know the first thing about being in a relationship with either a girlfriend or a daughter. Morgan is similarly single-minded in her military professionalism whereas Samantha comes from a broken home. Their attempt to create a surrogate family with each other could have been fascinating in the hands of stronger writing and direction. Here, it offers some entertaining moments between the punching and kicking.
The action is pretty standard for the most part. It is interesting to see Tom Cruise share some of these scenes with Cobie Smulders, since he tends to be solely front and centre in these films, and that discord is brought into play. While they are hiding in New Orleans, Reacher hopes that he can assign Turner the role of ‘mother’, which would allow him to go out alone to do the ‘real’ work. Turner of course both resents and rejects that assignment because babysitting a teenager is just about the most useless thing she could possibly do in this situation. She needs to be in the field just like Reacher and he sure as hell isn’t going to stop her. What I would give for a screenplay worthy of this conflict. Yarosh is serviceable as the young, rebellious girl who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter, but sometimes it feels like her character only exists to create problems for the grown-ups to solve.
As far as Tom Cruise action movies go, Never Go Back is about what you’d expect. Smulders is a great foil to Cruise and the family dynamic is quite interesting, but these qualities are let down by the sub-par writing and generic direction they were given. A campy villain within the vein of Werner Herzog would also have been welcome (this principle applies to action films in general). There are some good action set pieces, but nothing like the extravagant, stylised scenes you’d see in a Mission: Impossible film. That’s fine if you’re looking for something more down to earth, but those movies are entertaining for a reason. The interplay between Reacher, Turner and Samantha could have allowed for a more fulfilling experience if it had been allowed to attain the dramatic heights within reach. Instead the movie offers a few entertaining scenes with a couple of good jokes thrown in. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is by no means a failure but it could have and should have strived to be better.