Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

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“Some folks still wonder why you left.”

2012’s Jack Reacher may not be a very good film – in fact, I have trouble remembering even its most basic details – but it was still entertaining. As the saying goes, “they may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” That movie was bloated yet fast, glamorized with just the right amount of grime and told with a pulpy purpose. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back belongs on the flip side of the coin, failing to meet the most modest standards of its predecessor on absolutely every level, detrimentally pivoting the packaged action towards personally driven drama. This is a violent, brash, cold-blooded character at the helm. Trying to implant an aching heart in his chasm only results in rejection, and franchise death, and a wasted organ donation.

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A few months back I ordered an Uber for a night out. The driver arrived promptly, drove quickly, dropped us off without a word. He wore leather gloves, shifting the gears on his tiny Hyundai Accent like a grown man who had played Gran Turismo too many times. Weaving in and out of routine traffic for 20 minutes, racing a stretch of programmed small city lights. It was such a bizarre blend of danger and safety. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back follows that same puzzling formula. This time around the budget has nearly doubled in size but feels incredibly frugal in its production value, its principal casting, and the expected action. Confusion and insecurity – in tone and execution – undress Jack’s previously earned sense of confidence.

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Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) still has that air of arrogance to him, except this time it’s off-putting, especially because Cruise surprisingly seems to be coasting along. Reacher’s technically retired but acts like he’s on temporary paid leave. Trouble doesn’t find him; he finds trouble. He hitchhikes the country, aids Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) via the phone, and is so taken by her personality he asks her to dinner (remember that part of A Night at the Roxbury where Doug Butabi falls for Operator 238? This is less believable and less funny). Then Turner is framed for murder, Jack breaks her free, they go on the lam from a group of thugs who want them both dead. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back launches itself into a big velcro wall of government cover-up and corporate espionage without wearing the sticky suit. The film hits face first and lands with a dismal dull.

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Jack Reacher: Never Back Down is poorly written and directed. It’s that simple. You can’t really overcome dialogue such as, “I thought lady soldiers were gay” or “I tend to remember the women I sleep with.” Jack’s relationship with Turner is disingenuous. There’s an added subplot where Reacher’s possible daughter Samantha (Danika Yarosh) is brought into the foray. The twice-baked and forgettable antagonists are nameless faces to push the plot forward. Director Edward Zwick hasn’t made an above the curve movie since 2006’s Blood Diamond, his career since overturned by a Benjamin Button effect. Zwick’s previous features shined through glossy history and imprudent innocence; lately he’s become a voiceless agent of a half-wit Hollywood. This is one of those rare films that should just be wall to wall action packed fun. You buy the ticket, sit down for 90 minutes, and see the screen explode. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is too long and too gravely serious an endeavor to ever enjoy, which makes me think that we won’t be seeing this character again any time soon.

“You think you’re invulnerable.”

Rating: 1 out of 5

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