When Jack Reacher hit theaters in 2012 it did okay for itself, making just under a quarter-billion dollars and winning over the majority of both critics (myself included) and audiences. Much of the box office, though, came from overseas─perhaps a testament to the fact that there are still plenty of Americans who just don’t like Tom Cruise.

Either way Paramount is eager to turn Lee Child’s Reacher books into a franchise, so we now get Cruise reprising the role in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Based on the 18th book in Child’s series, the film is as formulaic and cliché-ridden as they come, and though Cruise does a solid job in the role (which is essentially an extension of his work as Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible series), there’s precious little else that works. The script is a mess─a boring, paint-by-numbers exercise in duplicating every movie ever about a rogue cop fighting bad guys─and the characters range anywhere from silly to downright annoying.

Cruise is Reacher, an ex-military police officer who travels the country making wrongs right. When his military colleague Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is arrested for espionage, he springs into action to, well, make the wrong right. In the process he also gets mixed up in a fifteen-year-old paternity case with a girl (Danika Yarosh) who may or may not be his daughter.

Never Go Back features every single action movie trope ever, including car chases, fist fights, shootouts, a jailbreak, tracked cell phone calls, and shady people in positions of power. Few of them, though, are even remotely realistic, making the film a veritable eye-roller from pretty much the word “go”.

The man in the director’s chair is Edward Zwick, and the resulting trainwreck makes you seriously wonder what happened to the guy who did such an admirable job with 1990’s Glory and again in 1995 with Legends of the Fall. (He also helmed the 2003 Cruise starrer The Last Samurai.) The fight scenes here are amateurish, and the film’s pace makes a stop-and-go traffic jam feel like a smooth ride on a freshly paved street. Overall it’s reminiscent of a B-movie that was too lousy to even warrant straight-to-DVD status.

Cruise will emerge unscathed (for those who still enjoy his work, anyway), but that’s far from the case with virtually everyone else. Smulders seems woefully out of her league as she forces ham-fisted emotion while trying in vain to keep up with the proceedings, and Yarosh brings a whole new level of petulance to her tiresome role as a snotty teenager. And let’s not forget to mention Patrick Heusinger as the almost-laughable bad guy, complete with black trenchcoat and black leather driving gloves, because why not?

The first crack at the screenplay went to Richard Wenk, who wrote the better-than-average scripts for the recent re-do of The Magnificent Seven, along with Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer and Jason Statham’s The Mechanic. I imagine (based on that track record) that the original script was actually pretty decent, but then Zwick and his longtime colleague Marshall Herskovitz got their hands on it, and that’s the unqualified disaster that we’re left with.

It’s certainly conceivable that Never Go Back will bring about the swift and premature end to Paramount’s planned Jack Reacher franchise, and not a moment too soon. If only they’d taken the advice they were given right there in the title.


1/5 stars