With anybody other than a superstar like Tom Cruise in the title role, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” would just be a routine potboiler. With superstar Tom Cruise in the title role, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is … a routine potboiler.
Tough guy hero is pursued by sinister government forces, outwits them, beats a bunch of people up, thwarts nefarious plan. The end.
Is that all there is?
It almost seems as though Cruise is slumming in this one. He had significant success playing Reacher in 2012’s eponymous “Jack Reacher.” That was a solid thriller, tautly paced and benefiting from the presence of Robert Duvall as a Reacher ally and Werner Herzog as a formidably evil villain.
“Never Go Back,” by contrast, features Cobie Smulders as Reacher’s ally and Patrick Heusinger as the villain. Not exactly A-list names. Not even close.
And Heusinger’s character is, frankly ridiculous.
The guy spends way too much screen time issuing dire threats, promising to kill Reacher and do awful things to those near and dear to him, and then kill them too. Bloviate, bluster, yap, yap, yap.
Guy would have been well advised to take the advice of Eli Wallach’s Tuco from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”: “When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk.”
Oh, and wipe that Snidely Whiplash sneer off your ugly mug while you’re at it.
Now, can we talk about why Cruise is all wrong for the role of Reacher?
As fans of Lee Child’s Reacher novels know, Reacher is awful big and he’s awful strong. Like 6-foot-5 big. And strong enough to break men’s arms with his bare hands, as he does in the book on which “Never Go Back” is based. At 5-foot-7, Tom Cruise is no Jack Reacher. It’s a not-insignificant issue. Reacher’s imposing physicality is a common thread in Child’s stories, repeatedly alluded to. He’s big. He’s bad. He hurts people. And he makes no excuses for himself. He’s called “feral” in the book, and in the movie too. Makes him a little uncomfortable, but he doesn’t deny it.
Not a huggy sort of guy. Cruise’s Reacher becomes a huggy sort of guy at the end. That’s when he develops tender feelings for a kid (Danika Yarosh) he has reason to believe might be a daughter he never knew he had. (The issue of her paternity is a significant element in the story: Is she? Or isn’t she?) She and Smulders’ character, an Army officer enmeshed in an elaborate frame-up involving the officer and Reacher, are around to give the villain people to threaten and, by extension, to give Reacher all the reasons he needs to get all feral on the ne’er-do-well.
Which he does.
That’ll wipe that sneer the miscreant’s mug.
Serves him right.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
☆☆ ½ out of 5
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger.
Director: Edward Zwick.
Running time: 1:58.
Rated: PG-13, for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements.