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'Jack Reacher' comes up short, movie critics say

December 21, 2012|By Oliver Gettell

When it comes to kicking butt, Tom Cruise is an old hand. He's done it as an ace pilot in "Top Gun," a soldier-turned-samurai in "The Last Samurai," a globe-trotting super-spy in the "Mission: Impossible" movies, a futuristic cop in "Minority Report" and a different globe-trotting super-spy in "Knight and Day."

Cruise's latest film, "Jack Reacher," adapted from the Lee Child novel "One Shot," gives the actor yet another chance to knock some bad guys senseless, this time as a mysterious ex-military investigator. According to many film critics, however, "Jack Reacher" fails to rise above being a run-of-the-mill action flick.

In light of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last week, some critics also note that the film — the plot of which involves a sniper's shooting spree — arrives at a particularly inopportune moment.

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Times film critic Betsy Sharkey writes that "Jack Reacher" is "so thrill-less, so chill-less … that it is unlikely to spark interest, much less controversy." The problem, Sharkey says, is that Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie fail to capture the essence of Reacher's character — a man tortured by his dark past and also a guy who is physically imposing.

"It's a great character, but one that doesn't suit Cruise," Sharkey says. "In Reacher's case size matters … But it's Reacher's interior life that is the real issue … The actor can do cool and calculating, it's the meaning behind it that never flickers to life."

The New York Times' A.O. Scott also finds that the on-screen Reacher leaves something to be desired: "Part comic-book superhero, part Old West vigilante and wholly preposterous, Reacher is far less enigmatic than he or anyone else in the movie thinks he is. And also less interesting." The storytelling doesn't impress Scott either, as the film "lumbers through a series of beatings, shootings and bludgeonings on its way to a climactic, not terribly surprising showdown."

The only "real fun" in the film, Scott says, comes from "a pretty good car chase" and appearances by Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall.

Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post calls "Jack Reacher" "a mismatch of wincingly epic proportions." Reacher, she says, "is a supposedly reluctant hero, but with his penchant for grandstanding it’s difficult to imagine him turning down any opportunity to show off a nearly bottomless — and increasingly monotonous — store of Cool Guy-approved skills."

Although Cruise has proved "a perfectly credible action hero" in the past, Hornaday says, this turn "is a wildly ill-advised miscalculation, with Cruise's virtually unstoppable appeal butting uncomfortably against Reacher's alternately cocky and downright crude cynicism."

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USA Today's Claudia Puig says the film "travels on well-trod turf," with Cruise spending "a lot of time in generic action hero mode."

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle found the film similarly bland, describing it as "an average action film, made slightly better by Cruise, and more bizarre by Herzog, and more watchable by [Rosamund] Pike, but still within the average range, a silk purse that still says oink."

The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips pens a mostly positive review of the film while acknowledging the dark cloud hanging over it. He writes, "Considered outside the context of the bloody December so far, 'Jack Reacher' does its work sleekly and well." Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel gives the film "a handsome, burnished sheen," and McQuarrie (who wrote "The Usual Suspects") delivers dialogue that "has snap and bite."

But Phillips says, "The truth is, we cannot drain a moviegoing experience of its context. 'Jack Reacher' is not an easy movie to enjoy at this particular moment."

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