Jack Reacher Starring Tom Cruise. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. M. ★★
The problem for some moviegoers to the latest Tom Cruise action-thriller comes early: "So you're Jack Reacher?" he's asked.
Through grinding molars, the resounding emphatic answer from these moviegoers will be: "No, no, no, no, no!"
The character Jack Reacher comes from the popular novels of Lee Child.
He's ex-military police, a super sleuth who's now a "ghost" - a drifter walking the Earth with a sense of justice and nothing to lose. He's a hulking, formidable figure, nearly two metres tall, physically intimidating and virtually indestructible.
Cruise bought the rights to Child's novel One Shot, got Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects writer) to adapt and direct it - and renamed it Jack Reacher. Cruise's mistake was to miscast his 1.7-metre self as Reacher.
Not that Cruise hasn't been an effective action star - and for moviegoers not familiar with Child's Reacher, this film should be reasonably diverting if generic (worth 3 stars).
It has Reacher taking a job from defence lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) to investigate the murders of her client, a man Reacher knew and who's charged with killing five people in Pittsburgh in a random, senseless sniper attack.
In supporting roles but generally underused are Richard Jenkins as Helen's district attorney father, David Oyelowo as the lead homicide detective, Werner Herzog as a creepy Russian crime lord and Robert Duvall as a gun-range owner.
McQuarrie keeps the story - with its opening painful topicality - ticking over with action, nasty violence, an obligatory car chase and a few touches of humour, none better than two buffoons making a slapstick assault on Reacher. But it seldom manages any mounting tension or galvanising intrigue.
Ultimately, it's one to which you go, you see and you forget.
For Child readers Cruise's Mighty Mouse Reacher is a constant distraction despite shirking his trademark killer smile and charm to play it grim, bare his manly chest and talk tough.
When he takes on five thugs in a street, it looks as if he's standing in a hole talking menacingly.
Noticeably, though, the majority of shots of Cruise are with the camera angled up at him to make him look taller and minimise his height disparity with Child's Reacher.
His Reacher is also a joyless macho-loner-hero, one that works better imaginatively on the page than Cruise on the screen.
Nevertheless, there is great franchise potential in Child's Reacher character and novels - but better to find an unknown actor who's more physically suitable and imposing to play Reacher because in this case size does matter.
Life of Pi Starring Suraj Sharma. Directed by Ang Lee. PG. ★★★★
If Jack Reacher doesn't visually measure up to its source material, Life of Pi certainly does. Indeed, it's visually dazzling, a magical rendering of a novel once considered unfilmable.
From its menagerie opening, this adaptation of Yann Martel's 2001 novel is a wonder to behold while telling a tale both fable and fabulous of teenage Indian castaway Pi (Suraj Sharma) aboard a lifeboat with a hungry Bengal tiger in the Pacific Ocean.
Screenwriter David Magee's story - told in flashback by an older Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a Canadian writer (Rafe Spall) - sufficiently engages after a slowish 45-minute set-up and even ultimately becomes moving but it's the moments of sheer cinematic beauty, often dreamlike or hallucinatory, that entrance.
Among them are a swimmer in such clear water that viewed from below he appears to be swimming in the sky; the reflection of a starry night sky in a calm sea; the appearance of dolphins, a whale, flying fish, jellyfish or of meerkats on a floating island that offers both life and death.
It's an adventure tale of survival and spirituality recalling both Tennyson's nature red in tooth and claw and Blake's tiger, tiger, burning bright.
It's also a reminder to tell loved ones you love them while you can.
It is an artistic achievement from Ang Lee, a director whose films include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain. And in Rhythm and Hues, he found a perfect partner, with its digital tiger creation stunning (previously the company did the lion in the Narnia movies).
While an alternative story to what has been shown is offered, providing a choice of preference, it's more of a playful footnote than a real choice since it is only verbally told rather than shown - a distinct disadvantage to the visually-related story.
Life of Pi is what movies are about, a predominantly visual experience in which someone else's imagination replaces our own - and in this case an experience enhanced by 3D.
- © Fairfax NZ News