Movie Review: ‘Jack Ryan’ heavy on action, light on plot

Jack Ryan has been played by four different actors and is the subject of a dozen or more Tom Clancy bestsellers.

So: What freshness can a new Ryan film offer?

Not much, it turns out.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” starring Chris Pine and directed by Kenneth Branagh, is a serviceable actioner with plain, old-fashioned story-telling and plenty of suspense. It doesn’t exactly blaze new trails, but there’s sufficient entertainment to merit $7 on a January afternoon.

The script by Adam Cozad and veteran David Koepp (“Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Spider-Man”) is surprisingly devoid of the usual surprises and complexity; the dialogue is often trite, the situations sometimes tough to swallow.

Ryan (Pine) is a Wall Street security investigator who’s actually a CIA mole; discovering unaccountable transactions involving a Russian firm, he travels to Moscow and quickly gets in over his head, freaking out so badly after one fight that he can barely function – even though he’s a decorated Marine who saw deadly combat in Afghanistan.

OK – maybe.

There’s one car-chase scene with logistical problems that ruin a nifty lightbulb-torture idea; and probability is stretched to the breaking point when Jack’s girl, who has followed him to Moscow because she wonders about his secrets, tells him that she feared he was having an affair – even though she just discovered a gun in his room.

I don’t know – do concealed weapons usually indicate romantic infidelity?

Despite occasional lapses like this, “Shadow Recruit” moves adeptly through a number of action scenes that are nicely choreographed by director Branagh and editor Martin Walsh.

Indeed, Branagh – best known for vibrant Shakespeare adaptations such as “Henry V” and “Much Ado About Nothing” – proves remarkably sure-footed in this genre, having cut his teeth on 2012’s terrific “Thor.”

“Shadow’s” exciting chases and countdowns employ the usual jangly editing and hyperactive cameras – yet they retain the necessary clarity and momentum; action fans will not feel ripped off or disappointed.

Pine is solid, and so is Branagh as the heavy; Keira Knightley works hard in the underwritten part of Ryan’s significant other; Kevin Costner brings gravitas to his CIA superior; and watch for a totally unbilled cameo from Mikhail Baryshnikov as the Russian premier.

Ultimately, “Shadow’s” success hinges on linear plotting in which Ryan must foil a planned terrorist attack on Manhattan’s financial district – and a concomitant economic assault designed to foment a second Great Depression.

Despite such grandiose threats, Branagh and co. are able to focus on small-scale ruses, pursuits and man-to-man fights; while I didn’t miss the explosions and noisy onslaughts found in most contemporary action films, it’s a bit of a letdown to find not a single unexpected plot twist here.

Then again, it was almost a relief not to have to think three steps ahead as in most other modern-day thrillers.