A film review by Craig J. Koban October 30, 2016



2016, PG-13, 118 mins.


Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher  /  Cobie Smulders as Susan Turner  /  Danika Yarosh as Samantha  /  Patrick Heusinger as The Hunter  /  Austin Hébert as Prudhomme  /  Robert Catrini as Colonel Moorcroft  /  Robert Knepper as General Harkness 

Directed by Edward Zwick  /  Written by Richard Wenk, Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz, based on the book by Lee Child

 JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK - the follow-up to the introductory JACK REACHER film from 2012  - continues the cinematic exploits of the seemingly homeless and loner ex-military police office that hitchhikes around from town to town with only the shirt on his back and toothbrush in his pocket...and a nasty penchant for finding trouble and wrongdoing.  

Of course, the first film was dogged with initial casting controversy, seeing as the middle aged and physically short Tom Cruise was anything but author Lee Child's vision of the titular character, that of a blond 6'5" behemoth brawler.  The eternally ageless Cruse, in my mind, silenced many of his detractors, seeing as he embodied the essence of the tough as nails and quick witted character rather well in his first silver screen adventure. 

Ironically, Cruise is both the best and worst past of JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK in the sense that - at 54 - he still can miraculously inhabit the visage of an action hero that should be played by someone far younger.  He's an authentically rendered tough guy both in this film and its antecedent.  Unfortunately, Cruise's intensity seems to be a bit lacking in round two here, and his turn as Reacher this go around has an aura of disinterest.  That's not to say that he's phoning in his performance in JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK, but you can sense a half hearted effort on his part, much as is the case with both the direction and writing on display.  

The sequel provides yet another military themed mystery for Reacher to crack, but the convoluted and sometimes confusing narrative fails to enthrall audiences in the same manner as the first film.  Instead of being a proud and emboldened franchise installment that propels the series confident forward, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK seems awfully reticent at times and frequently feels like a TV movie of the week than a bona fide Hollywood effort with an A-list actor and director. 



The film has a terrific opening scene, though, that's pure Reacher through and through.  We see the bloodied and bruised drifter enjoying a meal at a diner with a pile of bodies writhing in pain on the ground outside of it.  A local sheriff comes to arrest the seemingly guilty Reacher, only to be matter-of-factly told by him - as he's handcuffed - that the local pay phone will ring in 90 seconds with a military official on the other end that will outline the details of the sheriff's own arrest.  The phone rings, the sheriff answers, and is very quickly escorted off to military prison due to some very shady underground crimes involving sex trafficking.  Thanking him for his efforts is Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), whom has apparently worked with him multiple times before, but has never met the enigmatic man face-to-face (a relationship that the film awkwardly relays in some too-on-the-nose expository dialogue). 

Susan wishes to have dinner with Reacher, to which he agrees, but when he arrives at her office days later he's quickly informed that she's been promptly arrested on charges of treason and espionage and has demanded that Reacher stay away from her.  Of course, this leaves the inquisitive sleuth in Reacher more than a bit puzzled, and a later meeting with Susan's military attorney provides little further context, outside of the fact that she was in possession of deeply sensitive material that has been tied to the deaths of two soldiers in Afghanistan.  Things get direr for Reacher when the attorney winds up dead, which leaves him being charged for his murder.  Realizing that strange things are indeed afoot for both him and Susan, Reacher decides that his best course of action is to break both himself and Susan out of lock up (in a sequence that's a bit too hard to credibly swallow), and the pair go on the run to uncover the obvious wrongdoing to clear their names.  Adding more conflict to Reacher's already stressful predicament is the appearance of Samantha (Danika Yarosh) who may or may not be his daughter that he had no idea he had. 

There are a few things going well for the problematic JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK: Firstly, Cruise's stoic and world weary unflappability as Reacher himself, which helps carry the film forward, even though he doesn't exude the Cruise-ian charisma and swagger of old.  Secondly, Cobie Smulders is a very welcome addition to this series as a female reflection of Reacher himself.  Outside of the actress' porcelain beauty, Smulder is genuinely believable as a career military woman that's as proud as she is fierce in battle (like Reacher, she's definitely not afraid to get her hands dirty and bruised).  I also appreciated that the screenplay here never goes after the obvious romantic payoff between the pair.  Their dynamic in the film is fraught with sexual tension, to be sure, but there's also a level of mutual respect as partners that each brings to the table.  Smulders plays up to her character's emotional fragility and physical might in surprising ways that makes her a good match for Reacher here in more ways than one.  She is no damsel in distress than needs rescuing or being dragged around by her hand by the male hero...and that's refreshing. 

The overall narrative that surrounds them, though, is a slapdash affair that gets awfully sluggish during its middle third.  Part of the problem has to do with ill defined - if not wholly non-existent - villains here, one of whom is "The Hunter" (Patrick Heusinger) who's so depressingly one-note as a hostile and dangerous antagonist that his character feels ripped right out of the pages of a Action Thriller Screenplay handbook.  Coming off of the wonderfully inspired casting of Werner Herzog in the first JACK REACHER, the baddies this time around leave a tremendous amount to be desired.  The pertinent murder mystery that Reacher and Susan are called upon to solve lacks punch and a sense of thrilling uncertainty.  That, and some of the connective dots don't seem to make much sense on paper, leaving character motivations disappointingly murky.  And don't get me started on the lame-duck is-she-or-isn't-she plot device that is Samantha, a one dimensionally sullen and moody teenager that's ostensibly employed in the plot to be kidnapped and used as bait to bring Reacher out.  This character adds almost nothing of significance to the story, other than to be an unintentionally irksome presence. 

The action and fight scenes here as well are no where near as well oiled and orchestrated as what Christopher McQuarrie did to frequent masterful effect in JACK REACHER (that film's mid movie car chase scene alone was worth the price of admission).  JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK was directed by Edward Zwick, whom previously made the marvelous THE LAST SAMURAI with Cruise over a decade ago.  Zwick has made some truly great and memorable films, but his discipline seems AWOL in this sequel.  Action sequences are choppy, chaotically constructed and seem to lack the gnarly grit of the first film.  Some beats are also pathetically telegraphed, like one instance when Susan teaches Samantha who to quickly disarm a gun wielding lunatic that wants to kill her from behind.  It doesn't take Nostradamus to predict how this will figure in during the film's would-be exhilarating climax.  Considering the strong pedigree of work that came out of their last pairing, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is a mighty letdown for the re-teaming of Cruise and Zwick. 

This sequel just...I dunno...runs out of gas far too soon; just when it wants to put its foot on the accelerator it seems hopelessly stalled.  Zwick and his screenwriters never seem equal to the task of making this Reacher outing one of excitement and intrigue.  Instead, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK emerges as modestly enjoyable in some parts, but quickly forgettable and disposable in most other areas; it's more of a dutiful workmanlike effort than an innovatively crafted one.  That's a shame, because a film with the talent on board here shouldn't produce such a flavorless and unmemorable outing.  There's a great JACK REACHER movie to be made.  The 2012 entry came pretty damn close at times.  JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK should have gone back to the drawing board.  


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