Cruise a touch too tense


If there is one thing I look forward to at the end of the week, it's my regular date with Graham Norton.

Love him or hate him, there is no denying the excitable Irishman gets some fantastic talent on his Friday night TV show.

It was with considerable excitement that my wife and I sat down last Friday to watch Norton's New Year's Eve special.

Along with big names such as Hugh Jackman, Billy Crystal and Pink, the guest list included the one and only Mr Tom Cruise.

Sitting there with our rieslings at the ready, we couldn't wait to see how the notoriously controlled megastar would respond to Norton's trademark mischievousness.

Would the man who gave us Top Gun's Maverick, Mission Impossible's Ethan Hunt and Jerry Maguire's, um, Jerry Maguire, loosen up and let the world in?

Would, like most of Norton's guests, the universe's biggest movie star lean back and share an embarrassing story or two? Would he dive into the inter-guest banter and teasing that can make the show such a riot?

Well, sadly, and somewhat predictably, the answer to these questions was "no".

Cruise, 50, is widely regarded as the hardest-working man in Hollywood but it didn't really hit me how hard he works until I saw him on Norton's couch.

If the 20 minutes he spent on the show are any indication, then Cruise never stops working because he apparently spends his every waking moment playing a character named Tom Cruise.

It's a role that demands huge commitment, discipline and dedication.

Most of all it means never letting your guard down, never giving anything away, never appearing out of control and, from the looks of things, never relaxing.

The reason I mention all of this is because Cruise has brought the same qualities to his performance as Jack Reacher.

Created by author Lee Child, Reacher is a former military man who drifts around dispensing rough justice to villainous types who deserve it.

Based on the book One Shot, the film is Cruise's attempt to launch another franchise following the success of his Mission Impossible films.

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, Jack Reacher (M) is a good looking and well put together action thriller.

Cruise, also the film's producer, knows quality when he sees it and has surrounded himself with the likes of Rosemund Pike, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo from TV's Spooks. German film-maker Werner Herzog is also slyly cast as the baddie.

The plot, involving an apparent random shooting of five people in Pittsburgh, and a disturbed Iraq war veteran, chugs along nicely.

The film also scores points for taking more time than most to show us what such crimes mean for their victims. Unfortunately it is littered with cheese-ball macho man lines that constantly detract from the good stuff; lines that probably work better on the page than they do coming out of an actor's mouth.

The biggest problem, though, is the leading man.

Much has been made about the short Cruise playing the man-mountain Reacher but this wouldn't be an issue if Cruise didn't spend the whole film strutting around like a small man trying to make himself look like a big one. Seriously, he walks as if his muscles are so huge they keep getting his way.

He is also constantly clenching his jaw and never stops glaring at everyone. It makes you feel like he is is overcompensating and results in an unconvincing performance. It's a shame because in the right role Cruise can be great. Interestingly, the only scenes where he really comes alive are those where he beats the snot out of people. I'm not sure just what that tells us about the guy but it seems to me he seriously needs to chill out.

BOTTOM LINE: Good plot, wrong star. ★★★ (out of five)

Also screening: The Hobbit (M) Looks amazing and good fun. ★★★★