– By Jonathan W. Hickman, Special to The Newnan Times-Herald
Based on the eighteenth book in the best-selling series by prolific novelist Lee Child, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” is Tom Cruise’s weaker franchise evolving in the shadow of “Mission: Impossible.”
While there are things to like here, mostly related to a solid turn by co-star Cobie Smulders, it is hard to shake the B-movie underpinnings and televisual elements. This “Reacher” episode is a somewhat amusing diversion that will not likely see another installment.
What would be right at home as a weekly television series, “Never Go Back” involves another investigation by its titular hero. Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a mysterious ex-military major, who nomadically travels the country in blue jeans, a leather jacket, an expired military ID, and a toothbrush. The film opens with Reacher handcuffed in a diner having just beaten up a couple hard-hitting dudes. When questioned by the local sheriff, he incredulously deduces that Reacher is homeless. This quantum leap in detective techniques by the hapless sheriff here is indicative of what is to come, an adventure that moves quickly with coincidences and an investigation that could only take place in the fictitious world of Hollywood. Needless to say, logic is not part of the equation. After some playful small talk by phone between Reacher and potential love interest Major Turner (Cobie Smulders), the two decide to set up a date of sorts. But when Reacher arrives at Turner’s base, he discovers that she’s been arrested and charged with espionage. Of course, this means that Reacher has to spring into action to clear her name.
But to complicate things, someone has made a paternity claim with the military stating that Reacher has a daughter that he’s abandoned. This is news to Reacher, who also decides to check that story out as well. In time, Turner, Reacher, and his supposed daughter team up to investigate a shady military contractor while being pursued by all nature of nasty mercenaries.
The action set-pieces are fine showing off Cruise’s physical skills. Smulders is the standout matching Cruise stride for stride (yes, we get Cruise running on screen) as the two literally run around Washington D.C. and eventually New Orleans. The daughter subplot is convenient in that it weakens Reacher giving the bad guys a pressure point. But the daughter story also adds some amusing comedic banter requiring the sullen and often silent Reacher to utter a bit of dialogue.
Problematic is that Cruise is given little time to emote and show off his significant acting skills like he was permitted to do in the underrated “Edge of Tomorrow.” That film provided him with a character who had a more layered and evolving personality. Reacher, by contrast, is largely required to be one note—slow to warm up with an emphasis on the business of breaking heads.
That is why Smulders is so important to the narrative.
Not only does she add a bit of sexual tension to the story, but as Turner, Smulders is able to believably go toe-to-toe with threatening henchman. She isn’t some 135-pound, one-hitting female MMA specialist (Ronda Rousey, I’m talking about you). In order to defend herself, Turner has to make use of available weapons to equalize things with her heavier male opponent. And in one scene she gains the help of a water hose with deadly results. Ouch!