Thriller follows formula

Last updated 14:32 23/01/2014
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GOOD CHOICE: Chris Pine’s boyish good looks work well as the fourth Jack Ryan.

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REVIEW: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. M.

The new espionage thriller, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, could be a primer for directors on how to best use a variety of action formula cliches to make competent entertainment.

The film reboots the secret-agent character Jack Ryan - created by the late author Tom Clancy, although the screenplay is not based on one of his novels - in an origins story depicting how a Bourne-again Ryan was enlisted by the CIA and what was his first mission.

Chris Pine (who played James T Kirk in the Star Trek revival movies) becomes the fourth actor to play Ryan, with Kevin Costner as his veteran CIA recruiter and controller, Thomas Harper; Keira Knightley as his doctor-girlfriend; and Kenneth Branagh as the villain.

After a prologue starting on 9/11 and continuing briefly but dramatically in the air over Afghanistan in 2003, the story jumps ahead 10 years to show ex-Marine Ryan working undercover as a financial analyst in Wall Street, trying to detect possible terrorist funding.

A discovery sees him sent to Moscow where he identifies a plot to create an economic crisis and chaos coinciding with a new terrorist attack in America.

In the course of the movie, the following familiar moments, situations and characters occur:

Beat-the-clock: Where would thrillers be without a clock counting down to disaster? Here, the story compounds this scenario: Ryan, Harper and company not only find out in Moscow that they have just 18 hours to save America (think TV's 24) but Ryan has to daringly sneak in and steal vital information from the villain's fortress lair in just 10 minutes - and of course there's a bomb ticking away to boom-time in the frenzied climax.

Computer wizardry: Where would good guys be today without the amazing ability to not only get any kind of information from computers but so fast you want to know where you can get such broadband speed. At one point Harper says "I need a cross-section of what's under this building - and I need it now!'‘ Moments later he has it.

Car chase: This basic thriller ingredient has Ryan desperately driving like a maniac in night-time Moscow in frantic pursuit of another fleeing vehicle - and never making a wrong turn despite being a stranger to the city and only having someone giving him directions in his ear.

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Diabolical villain: Thrillers are often only as good as their villains - and here it's a Russkie (thanks to Putin, Russians are making a comeback as villains du jour). Branagh smartly and effectively underplays Viktor Cherevin, who masterminds a vengeful plot with government sanction to wreck America for the benefit of his beloved mother country. His brutality is established before we even see his face and he's not a man to cross or blame for weakness.

Hero and mentor: Every potential franchise needs a likeable and believable young hero - and a mentor rich in experience and wisdom. Pine's boyish looks work well for a character thrown into the deep end (no cockiness here) while Costner is a smooth, tough mentor.

Damsel-in-distress: Knightley is a love interest but primarily present to be a stereotypical damsel-in-distress, although she does have a good repartee scene in a restaurant sparring verbally with Viktor.

A biblical reference: The Bible is a rich source for crazies - and the passage used here by Viktor is Lamentations chapter 2 verse 2. You don't need to look it up as it's quoted in the film.

Bad-shot bad guy: Imagine how different the world would be movie-wise if bad guys were good shots. A scene in which an assassin tries to kill Ryan is also notable for all the ensuing noise being covered up by a cleaner vacuuming in the hallway outside and for a miraculous clean-up and repair done in less than three hours.

Torture technique: The film comes up with a new one involving a light bulb that you shouldn't later test at home to see if it's true or not.

Overall, the movie has a by-the-numbers, colour-between-the-lines approach - and yet director Branagh (Thor) shows how to take stock situations and action staples and still make them sufficiently taut, exciting and entertaining.

Well-executed frenetic editing keeps the pace fast enough to disallow time for dwelling on far-fetched moments, with the last hour of the movie being a string of action sequences and setpieces.

Occasionally hackneyed and derivative, this easily forgettable movie is unlikely to leave its audience stirred or shaken - but a capable cast, director and production team make it an enjoyable enough diversion in its genre.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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