Can a well be dry after a single successful trip? Because if Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the best this franchise has to offer after its surprising debut, then we might as well be drinking sand. None of the new characters are likable, the acting is hollow, and the writers deprive Jack Reacher himself of any real interest. The plot is derivative and full of generic bad guys that make Jai Courtney look like Anton Chigurh. The screenplay is written by three people, none of whom are named “Christopher McQuarrie”, and is populated by wooden groaners and extreme plot conveniences. The plot is generic, and its associated “twist” is lazy and telegraphed worse than the death of Han Solo. This is a film that is completely bereft of technique, subtlety, and intrigue.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back opens with that scene from the trailer that you have practically seen in its entirety. Then, a kissy-face game of telephone tag between Reacher and Cobie Smulder’s Major Turner commences for some reason, and a meet-up is planned. However, when Reacher arrives, he finds that Turner has been arrested on espionage charges. From there, the plot unfolds in a linear and insufferably predictable fashion, plus for some reason we introduce a smart-assed dumbass 15-year old girl who might be Reacher’s daughter, and so has to come along with the two fugitives.
This girl is Samantha (Danika Yarosh), and you’ll need two hands to count the number of times she fucks up by revealing the group’s location to the generic action Navy SEAL bad guy, who is so devoid of character that he is billed as “The Hunter” (Patrick Heusinger). In a vain attempt to keep Samantha from feeling like a comprehensive drag on the mission (which she 100% is), the writers provide her with some trumped-up “skills” like stealing and lying. Turner also teaches her a single self-defense move, and you’ll get zero points for predicting that it factors into the climactic battle of the film. When she isn’t bitching about something, she is stunningly cavalier about how people are trying to kill her.
This film is easily Danika Yarosh’s biggest role to date, and she is not good. I’d rather not focus on her poor performance, though, because precisely zero actors come out of this travesty unscathed. It’s hard to criticize such an inexperienced actor for her failings when much more capable talents also look like dog shit in the same movie. Someone should tell Tom Cruise that clenching his jaw while looking off into the distance is not acting. Mention to Cobie Smulders that looking angry doesn’t make people automatically care about her character. It’s embarrassing, and I’ll gladly place the blame on writer-director Edward Zwick.
Zwick’s failure here is a little baffling. Sure, Glory was 27 years ago, but he has shown competence on other films since then, including Blood Diamond, Defiance, and Pawn Sacrifice. He even won an Oscar for producing Shakespeare In Love, though that is a can of worms that is beyond the scope of this review. Regardless, whatever he was doing at the helm of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back certainly won’t be added to his highlight reel. There are almost too many failures to document. The inability to get passable performances from reasonable actors has already been mentioned, but this is especially egregious given the context of the action sequel. It’s not like we were looking for Oscar-worthy performances; we would have settled for mere competence, and we didn’t even get that.
It goes beyond handling the actors and bleeds into almost every aspect of what actually ends up on screen. The screenplay is moronic, and Zwick is one of three credited writers. Both the overall structure of the script and isolated sections of dialogue are stupid, signifying failure on a comprehensive level. Additionally, the action sequences are some of the most boring I have ever seen. There is an honest-to-God sequence that is literally just running through / around an airport. It ends without any payoff when the protagonists hop on a shuttle. This is not an isolated incident; we see the Cruise / Smulders combo flat-out running for buses, taxis, and cars an awful lot in this movie. It might as well be called, “Jack Reacher – Rule #1: Cardio”.
More confrontational action scenes are dark, ugly, and similarly uninteresting. The climactic battle is sometimes hard to decipher thanks to lazy camera work, and it is some of the most generic fighting I have ever seen on a big-budget Hollywood film. It is made worse by the fact that the bad guy’s motivation is non-existent, and his hatred for Jack Reacher is completely unearned. The final 15 minutes of this movie feels like a chore, especially since it is so predictable.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back feels like a poor-man’s John Woo film, Face Off without the tongue-in-cheek whimsy. It is the result of running through uninspired motions while thinking of all the zeros that will be on that fat mother-fuckin’ movie check. It surprises the audience only with the depths and magnitude of its badness, especially given the impressive nature of the original. Insert the already clichéd, “Never Go Back” plea to the film makers, plus another one targeted to the audience. Seriously, just watch the first one again, and pray that John Wick doesn’t suffer the same fate.