Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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Laura Clifford 
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Robin Clifford 

When Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) returns to his old military unit's headquarters, he finds out colleague Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, "Avengers: Age of Ultron") is being held for espionage so he helps her escape then sets out to figure out why she was unjustly accused in "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back."

The first "Jack Reacher" was a pretty good franchise starter for Cruise, so what's gone so wrong with its sequel?  Firstly, cowriter (with Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz)/director Edward Zwick ("The Last Samurai") has stepped in with a sloppy adaptation of Lee Child's novel that defies logic more than once.  Secondly, the film is ugly, taking place on military bases, cheap motels and IHOPs, its climax making even New Orleans' French Quarter look grimy and depressing.  Thirdly, this is a Tom Cruise vehicle where his costar, Cobie Smulders, is far more dynamic, kicking ass and taking names.  The film feels like a cheap knockoff rather than a successor.

After a prologue far better than the rest of the film which reintroduces Reacher, he contacts Turner, a colleague he's never met, proposing dinner, but by the time he reaches her, he's advised she's been arrested and is facing court martial. Engaging the friendly Sgt. Leach (Madalyn Horcher, adding a zesty conspiratorial wink), he wrangles information that leads him to Turner's lawyer, Colonel Moorcroft (Robert Catrini), who gives him little to go on but informs him he's a deadbeat dad, a former prostitute having filed for child care support through the Army.

Overpowering Turner's former underling Espin (Aldis Hodge, "The East"), Reacher breaks her out and learns she was investigating the deaths of two of her men while transporting a now missing planeload of weapons in Afghanistan under the control of a military contractor.  As the two follow corruption up the military chain, they're constantly challenged by a mercenary hit man (Patrick Heusinger, "Frances Ha") engaged by her replacement Sam Morgan (Holt McCallany, "Sully").

But there's also the matter of a 16 year-old girl who may or may not be Reacher's daughter.  Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh, TV's 'Heroes Reborn') appears to have Reacher's genes, a foster child and petty thief with enough strong instincts to make her more than a third wheel.

"Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" is all pretty standard action stuff, chases followed by periods of rest and revelation before the next chase.  Cruise's movie star magnetism is oddly dulled here, the actor only sparking trading quips with Smulders.  Yarosh makes a solid impression, but her character's undermined by a script that creates a resourceful teenager only to have her make dumb moves to move the plot forward.  The way the writers settle the question of Reacher's paternity is completely illogical, as is Reacher's tracking of a crucial witness (Austin Hébert) who ends up as casually dismissed gun fodder.

"Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" may be a prophetic title for this franchise. It's a good thing for Cruise that he has another edition of "Mission Impossible" in the pipeline.

Grade:  C+ (the plus is for the film's female cast)

Robin did not see this film.
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