Left to right: Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher, Judd Lormand plays Local Deputy and Jason Douglas plays Sheriff in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Ph: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is by far Tom Cruise’s least entertaining film in years.

It’s also a possibly fatal setback to the “Jack Reacher” series of films he launched with such surprising grit and verve back in 2012. Never Go Back lacks just about all of the previous film’s ingenuity, relying heavily on well-worn action film tropes and clichés.

Is it terrible? No, but it should prove a disappointment for those hoping for more of what the first film delivered.

What’s it about

This time, Reacher (Cruise) comes to the aid of his successor in the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, Avengers: Age of Ultron). Turner faces treason charges following the deaths of two of her investigators and the discovery of evidence that implicates her in espionage.

Their poking around into Turner’s frame-up leads to them being tracked by an assassin (Patrick Heusinger) and also another mystery. A paternity suit leveled at Reacher claims he’s the father of 15-year-old Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a claim he denies, though he’s not entirely sure.

Naturally, Samantha’s possible connection to Reacher makes her a target, as well. Therefore, Reacher and Turner find they have no choice but to bring the willful, streetwise girl along for the ride.

Together, the trio work to unravel just why Turner’s agents were killed in the first place, while evading both the assassin and military police out to put Turner back in a cell. It’s a de facto family road trip, complete with a treasure hunt, some scenic locales, and lots of flying bullets.

Jack Reacher one-sheet

Reacher-style action

One thing Jack Reacher: Never Go Back does do well is keep its own brand of action distinct from Cruise’s other well-known action series, the Mission: Impossible films. While those action vehicles feature flashier, more elaborate set pieces and labyrinthine plots, the Reacher films strive for a more grounded and gritty feel.

To that end, director Edward Zwick (Pawn Sacrifice, Blood Diamond) and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood (Mission Imposible: Rogue Nation) keep stuntwork here smaller in scope. From the fights to the chases and gunplay, the goal seems to be visceral immediacy, rather than showiness.

The results aren’t bad, but fail to stand out when compared to the first film. Audiences watching may find themselves feeling as they did watching Jason Bourne back in July: entertained, but not wowed. After all, what they’re getting doesn’t build on what’s past – it’s just more of the same.

Too many clichés

Where Jack Reacher: Never Go Back goes off the reservation is in the plotting between the action beats. The first Reacher film worked, in part, because writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow, The Usual Suspects) stayed committed to the detective story aspect of Lee Child’s “Reacher” novels. The film took its time and let Reacher be an investigator first and an ass-kicker second.

Never Go Back, in comparison, packs its 118 minutes with more punching and shooting and relatively little detective work. Zwick is among three writers credited on the film, so he shares a measure of responsibility here. Though he’s been writing screenplays since the late 1970’s, Never Go Back is Zwick’s first crime thriller. The inexperience shows.

What’s worse is instead of screen time used for sleuthing, audiences get tired tropes. Awkward bonding time between Reacher and Samantha, an attempt at romantic tension between Reacher and Turner (no), and a climax to the action that’s telegraphed an hour into the film all add up to a surprisingly ham-handed storytelling effort.

Safe to say, if Cruise undertakes another Reacher project, best to ‘go back’ to McQuarrie. At least he knows how to construct a smart mystery thriller.

Worth seeing?

Finally, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back represents a stumble for Cruise, who seems to have a hiccup every two or three projects. His last two — Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Edge of Tomorrow — helped him recover from the lackluster Oblivion. Prior to those, the first Reacher film and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol covered for disappointments like Rock of Ages and Knight and Day.

That said, for Cruise fans there may just be enough here to warrant a trip to the theater this weekend. For everyone else, safe to say Jack Reacher: Never Go Back can wait for home viewing. If anything, waiting to see it might preserve your good memories of the first film just a little longer.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Starring Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Robert Knepper. Directed by Edward Zwick.
Running Time: 118 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements.

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One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.

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