Movie Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (M, 118 mins) Directed by Edward Zwick ★★½
I found myself, as I often do at 6.30pm on a Wednesday night, in the multiplex, sitting next to one of Wellington's more venerable film-reviewers and broadcasters (he claims to never read anyone else's reviews, so I can pretty much call him what I like, I guess).
And walking out of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, he made, as he often does, a good point.
"The bloke who wrote those books must have grown up watching the same TV programmes as me," he said.
I shot him my trademark uncomprehending frown.
"In the 60's, the TV was full of shows about these strange men who drifted into town, sorted out some problem, and then buggered off, generally leaving at least one woman yearning for him. There were dozens of the bloody things."
He's right too. I may be a TV generation younger than my film-watching mate, but I'm at least old enough to have some dim memories of re-runs of The Lone Ranger (Tonto notwithstanding), Kung Fu and god knows how many other shows based on exactly this same hoary old riff.
It's a story that's been doing the rounds since Arthur sent his knights off from the round table. And, credit where it's due, Reacher's creator Lee Child has got scarily efficient and seriously rich by being about the best in the business at trotting it out again. Never Go Back is Child's 18th Reacher novel. It was released in 2013. There have been two more since, with another due before Christmas. Child, much like his hero and cash-cow, is relentless and extremely well-disciplined.
* Watch: Tom Cruise talks about Jack Reacher
* Jack Reacher is back: Make Me by Lee Child extract
* Film review: Jack Reacher
But whether or not Tom Cruise was ever the right bloke to bring Child's hero to the big screen...that's another question completely.
In 2012, the news that Tom Cruise – an actor who barely troubles 170 cm in his little cotton socks – had cast himself to play the "six-foot-five" Jack Reacher set the internet ablaze for at least a couple of hilarious days.
Many people – and I have the comments thread to prove it – were just never going to accept Cruise as Reacher, no matter how hard the wee couch-hurdling cultist jumped around and flailed his tiny hands at the chins of the – suspiciously diminutive – bad guys. And fair enough too, I suppose.
But, with Liam Neeson and Hugh Jackman not available, Stallone and Willis too long in the tooth, Mel Gibson still on the naughty step and the rest of the current stable of leading men either too paunchy, too insubstantial, or too busy playing Thor to take on the role, then I have to grudgingly admit that Cruise did alright.
Cruise played Reacher with just enough of a wink and a smile to let us know he was in on the joke, but also enough commitment and physicality to at least make for a credible street fighting avenger and one-man assault team.
Jack Reacher went to make a pile of cash. And so now Cruise, in between instalments of Mission: Impossible, divorces and whatever the hell it is that Scientologists get up to, has found the time to re-unite with Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai) to make another one.
Never Go Back finds Reacher coming to the aid of a woman he has travelled across America to meet. She is a US Army Major, which was once also Reacher's rank.
But, she's got herself caught up in a conspiracy, wrongfully arrested and seriously threatened by a couple of standard-issue bad guys. Further complicating Reacher's man-alone status is the unexpected appearance of a young woman who might be Reacher's daughter from a past fling.
It all unfolds as it should, with the dialogue serving mainly to explain to the audience what the team are about to do and why, before heading out for another bout of fisticuffs and bang-bangs.
But, in Cobie Smulders (The Avengers) Cruise has at least picked a co-star who can keep his character honest. Many scenes in Never Go Back are basically owned by Smulders, and it's a credit to Cruise – with his producer's hat on – that he has let the macho nonsense occasionally take a back seat to Smulders' own ass-kickery.
Likewise, Danika Yarosh as the possible daughter. She thrives in a role that involves a bit more than the helpless victimhood that – say – the Taken films have ever allowed their young women.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is never going to make anyone's Top Ten list. And in a year or two, when it turns up on TV, you'll be struggling to remember whether you've even seen it. But it is an efficient and likeable waste of a couple of hours with its heart mostly in the right place.
If it wasn't for a couple of plot-holes left gaping towards the end, I might even have found it in my heart to give it a third star. But let's not get carried away.