Monday, January 28, 2013

The Cinema File #97: "Jack Reacher" Review

I've always liked Tom Cruise, and I've never really understood the post-Couch Jumping hatred a lot of people have for the man whose turned in so many great performances. Okay, that's not exactly true, I do understand it, I just don't accept it. I know Scientology is the one religious group everyone seems to agree is okay to make fun of, but as a generally agnostic person, I don't see anything specifically wrong with it relative to any other religion, and I find it a bit disgusting to find so many people, especially those who believe equally goofy things, judging a man and his work unfairly because they are uncomfortable with the church he goes to. The point is, I don't have the reflex a lot of people seem to have nowadays that automatically assumes a Tom Cruise movie's going to be bad, and while there are a lot of problems with his latest film Jack Reacher, I still think his involvement elevated the material a great deal, making what would have been an otherwise terrible movie at least watchable, if not somewhat enjoyable.

Jack Reacher is the story of a wandering bad ass ex-army cop who comes out of hiding to take down a sniper, only to find that the man he thought was the culprit is actually the one seeking his help, leading to a larger plot that only he and his bad assery can unravel. I joke about the bad ass thing, and yes, this movie takes many an opportunity to remind us that Jack Reacher is "The Man" whether we're ready to believe it at any point or not, but at the same time, I can't say it doesn't also take the time to demonstrate that fact as much as flat out saying it. When Reacher gets the chance to actually be a bad ass and not just be referred to as one, he doesn't disappoint, leading to more tense and engaging action sequences than at least I was anticipating. In many ways I see Jack Reacher as a counterpoint to the recent Alex Cross film, an action procedural based on a novel series, where a much maligned actor takes on a much beloved role where everyone in the room can tell us how great he is. Maybe the low standard of "better than Alex Cross" is clouding my judgment when it comes to some of this film's more major flaws, but by the end, I'd say there's more solidly good stuff here than bad if your into this sort of thing.

That said, In a weird way, there's about as much time spent undercutting the "Jack Reacher as Bad Ass" dynamic as there is reinforcing it, and I'm not sure if that made me enjoy the character and the movie more or less now that I think about it. For one thing, one of the first things we learn about him is that a side effect of his living totally off the grid is that he has no valid driver's license, and while we do see him driving illegally later on in the film, including a competently directed car chase, the first half of the film gives us a hero who has to take the freaking bus everywhere and get rides all over town. Maybe that sounds like I'm reaching, but if you ever thought about John McClane needing a bus pass, I can't imagine it wouldn't diminish the kick ass allure of the man a little bit. Hell, even Keanu Reeves in Speed seemed like he was too cool to take the bus, and that whole movie was set on a bus! Also, a lot of the bad guys save the main ones at the end seem particularly inept, and not just the way they usually are in action movies. There's an attack in a meth house with perhaps two of the stupidest would-be killers in the history of cinema, and a lot of Reacher's opponents are not established as threatening enough to make him look like he's actually doing something when he kicks their asses.

There are also a lot of moments and elements that are either silly or just plain strange and that completely take me out of the movie. The first of these in my notes is a reference made by Jack Reacher to a woman's menstruation as a quip intimating that she is promiscuous, and while I would prefer not to elaborate on that, needless to say it was the most off putting line in a movie since Total Recall's "What can I say, I give good wife." Later, Cruise has his shirt off for some reason, which I get purely on the level of titillation for the female audience, but another character literally goes out of her way to demand he put his shirt back on, as if only to highlight the fact that he was so arbitrarily shirtless. Then Robert Duvall shows up as some guy Reacher just meets, who he somehow convinces to help him kill a bunch of people he doesn't know, but not before he makes Jack prove his skill with a rifle, because clearly the ability to hit three bullets in the center of a piece of paper is the mark of trustworthiness. Oh, and Robert Duvall is also an expert sniper, one of four in the movie because sure, I can believe that's such a common skill, and in a duel with one of the other snipers, Duvall uses his sniper rifle to shoot a hole into the other man's sniper rifle, disabling it without killing him.

Then again, there were about as many things that I genuinely liked amid all the goofiness. In addition to the title character who Cruise makes likable enough despite exhibiting many cliches I normally hate in action movie heroes, I thought the primary antagonists were fairly interesting bad guys, even if they weren't quite used to their full potential. Our introduction to the main villain does a very good job of establishing him as ruthless, though it is somewhat mitigated by the lackluster way in which he exits the movie. An extended sequence following the lives of the sniper victims and their connections to each other is almost chilling and very effective, and later when it becomes apparent that one of the characters is working for the bad guys, the build up of tension was better than it should have been given how easy it was to guess who the betrayer would be. A lot of the film is like that, stylish enough to make you forgive or forget how predictable it is. The dramatic stings accompanying our hero's deduction of the crime's motive and one character's status as a patsy almost seem silly when you saw those revelations coming a mile away, but by then I was more than willing to go along for the ride.

I had fun with Jack Reacher despite a heavy dose of cheese and illogical execution, and if you can suspend your impulse to chip away at every little thing you find stupid, its ultimately a pretty solid watch. Unless you're a huge fan either of the actor or this genre of movie, I don't know if I'd go so far as to recommend rushing out to the theaters to see it, but when it comes out on DVD, its a pretty safe bet for a night's rental.

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