7 out of 10
It’s hard to believe that “Top Gun” was 30 years ago. Tom Cruise is still the gold standard for an action star, despite his questionable personal life. He once again immerses himself in the Jack Reacher character, based on the book series by Lee Child, for the second time since 2012.
Jack Reacher is an former major in the U.S. Army Military Police, a title he reminds us of numerous times throughout the film. He has a distrust and disdain for the military, but maintains his close connections and wields effortless authority when it suits him. He fights crime on his own terms and never seems to stay in one place for very long.
He finds himself embroiled in a severely uncomplicated plot involving a might-be-love interest (Coby Smulders) and a could-be-daughter (Danika Yarosh) where they form a severely dysfunctional pseudo-family. He is matched up against a shady, nameless contractor (Patrick Heusinger) who would fit right in if he were in a James Bond film, with his sunglasses, black leather jacket and black driving gloves. Pretty cool, but not very incognito.
Cruise is ageless. Regularly doing his own stunts and brawling with the best stuntmen around, he is impressive, be it with a gun, his fists, or his kicks. The action scenes are entertaining as all get-out, and the subtle nod to poorly written action films of the ‘80s and ‘90s, whether intentional or not, is highly effective. The character is mysterious, but doesn’t leave you wondering or caring. He’s a simple man with an unflappable code. You root for him in all of his unrealistic scenarios; where he outsmarts and outpunches everyone in the room, and that’s really all there is to him. Despite his over-used blue-steel squint, eye-twitch gaze, you know there isn’t much more than a man who is always looking for a fight beneath the surface. Even the big man posture and walk exudes testosterone, and it totally works.
Director Edward Zwick reteams with Cruise (“The Last Samurai”) and seems to be slumming a bit in his choice of project. It certainly must have been a fun film to make, and perhaps there is a relationship between the two that made it appealing, but he is a high-quality director (“Blood Diamond,” “Glory,” “Legends of the Fall”) and his efforts don’t go unnoticed. An awkward ending shows some of his trademark dramatic style, but otherwise he captures the action with a veteran’s touch.
The writing is pedestrian, but I’m unfamiliar with the source material, so I can’t speak to the adherence to the novel. It reminds me of so many books written in the genre (including my own) and never achieves any real depth or realism. It is a fun time though.
I was actually surprised that I enjoyed this film so much despite its many weaknesses. It did get a little old during the third act, when the twist emerged unceremoniously and predictably, but it was followed by an epic fistfight, so all is forgiven.
There is a tone created from the very first scene that makes you sit back and just enjoy the show. A true sign of a successful film, even if it isn’t the best of stories. This is the type of film you might order on-demand on a Saturday night when you’re in the mood for something exciting, and you will be pleasantly surprised. With tempered expectations comes satisfaction. Love him or hate him, Tom Cruise is going to be around for a long time.