Movie review: ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’

Lightning doesn’t strike twice for Cruise as Reacher

In this image released by Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions, Tom Cruise appears in a scene from, "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back." (Chiabella James/Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions via AP)

In this image released by Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions, Tom Cruise appears in a scene from, "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back." (Chiabella James/Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions via AP)

By JOSEPH

W. SMITH III

Sun-Gazette Correspondent

It takes a strong actor to play opposite Tom Cruise, but in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” Cobie Smulders pulls it off. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is pretty lame.

Cruise plays the titular hero featured in Lee Child’s long-running series of bestsellers — a former military cop who roams the country righting wrongs. In this sequel to Cruise’s modest 2012 hit, “Jack Reacher,” Smulders plays a DC-area military police major who becomes the target of a mysterious and lethal organization called Parasource. She needs Reacher’s help even though she doesn’t want it, and for about an hour it’s fairly fun watching Cruise rescue himself and her with his usual I-can-do-anything antics; but later, thanks to creaky, cliche plotting and an overlong climax, the film’s appeal really runs thin.

I admired the scriptwriters’ determination to keep dramatics to a minimum, so we’re never overwhelmed with the kinds of car chases, explosions and ridiculous acrobatics we’ve come to expect from modern-day action films. I also appreciated their rather refreshing resolve to leave romance right out of the equation between the two leads. It really makes Smulders an effective force in the storyline rather than just a sidekick for her better-known co-star — she is strong, unswerving and utterly believable.

Instead of romantic fireworks, “Never Go Back” draws emotional appeal from Reacher’s relationship with a teenage girl who may or may not be his daughter. This plot strand works moderately well, even though it takes actress Danika Yarosh about half an hour to figure out how she wants to play the character, alternating from sulky to girlish, to needy and scared, to daring and clever (in fairness to Yarosh, some of the blame for this lies with the writing).

“Never Go Back” is too long, however, and the second half slowly bogs down in logistical improbabilities, unclear decisions, predictable plotting and an unforgivably long and bone-headed fistfight near the very end.

Speaking of which, the film continues an irritating action-movie trend I’ve been lamenting for years — namely, that good guys and bad guys alike casually ignore their handguns whenever the script wants some hand-to-hand combat instead. At one point here, three gun-toting thugs apparently forget all about their sidearms while a fourth dukes it out with Reacher, but then the guns suddenly come whipping out when fisticuffs are over. This sort of thing happens more than once, with no more explanation that some of the other murky plot mechanics.

“Never Go Back” is serviceable at best — the sort of film that passes two hours without much boredom, but then leaves you wondering how many better ways there might have been to spend that time. Oh, well — at least it beats another presidential debate.

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