Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Or, as I like to call it, Jack Reacher: Never Stop Running. Starring in the sequel four years after the original, just plain Jack Reacher, Cruise returns as Reacher, the former military policeman who runs hither and yon and also takes a lot of buses. In one memorable scene in Jack Reacher, Reacher got away on a bus, so in the sequel, he gets away on a bus TWICE. This is the kind bloated, bigger-louder-more filmmaking that ruins sequels. What are they gonna do next time—have THREE bus getaways?!
The first Jack Reacher is a solid action movie with some fun personality quirks, like casting Werner Motherf*cking Herzog as the bad guy and some real moral conundrums built into the plot. (It’s also the movie where I first noticed David Oyelowo, and I wish he would play more conflicted characters like this one.) But Jack Reacher: Planes, Trains, and Running Shoes has had pretty much all of its personality washed away in the Studio Standardizer. It’s not a bad movie, per se, it’s just not very interesting, especially compared to the rather inventive original.
Jack Reacher: Bus Getaway acts like Jack Reacher: Just the One Bus never happened. The Jack Reacher franchise is going to be episodic, a la Indiana Jones, which is fine. And like Indy, Reacher is introduced in media res in a scene designed to demonstrate his character without awkward exposition. Doesn’t quite work here because immediately following the scene establishing Reacher’s badass credentials, he has a conversation with someone that re-establishes his badass credentials and reiterates things we gleaned from the scene that just happened.
Reacher is still drifting around America, and this time he ends up in Washington, DC, where he has a vaguely upsetting plan to seduce Major Turner (Cobie Smulders, trying her hardest), the woman who has replaced him at the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. I say “vaguely upsetting” because 1) Tom Cruise is not sexy, and 2) the idea of a man sexually conquering the woman who succeeded him is gross OH MY GOD DO I HAVE TO EXPLAIN WHY. Fortunately, someone realized the romance was a terrible angle and the closest it gets to happening is talking about how it’s not going to happen.
It doesn’t happen because Turner is promptly charged with espionage and Reacher gets sucked into the conspiracy against her, and the two have to work together to clear both their names. (If that sounds like the plot of an airport novel that’s because it is. Also part of this movie takes place at an airport.) The plot is suuuuper easy to figure out but I don’t think the plot is really the point. The point are the car chases and bus getaways and Tom Cruise running and punching people with his tiny baby fists.
The biggest problem with Jack Reacher: Unlimited Bus Pass stems from the Studio Standardizer—Reacher has a dumb wiener kid. I know, I know—based on a book. But there are like twenty Reacher novels. Can we pick one that doesn’t have a dumb wiener kid? The kid in question is Surly Teen Samantha (Danika Yarosh, Shameless), a foster kid who may or may not be Reacher’s. So she’s the worst kind of dumb wiener kid—the kind that exists just to tease the possibility of a dumb wiener family. It’s only worth it to introduce a dumb wiener kid if it changes the main character in some tangible way, but Reacher is the same stoic drifter at the end.
Surly Teen Sam got added because someone thought the problem with Jack Reacher—which underperformed in the US—was that Reacher must not have been likeable enough. But the problem was that it is about a mass shooting and it came out one week after Sandy Hook, so no one wanted to see it.
But it is a good movie, timing aside, and if the sequel had doubled-down on the quirky casting and morally conflicted plot, instead of the f*cking buses, the Reacher franchise could be onto something. Instead we get a sanitized sequel dishing out lots of face-punching for much less interesting purposes. Jack Reacher: Half Marathon does make an important contribution to American cinema though —about thirty-seven minutes of new material for the “Tom Cruise Running” supercut.