JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
** SPOILERS **
"Congrats, Jack. I don't give a shit." says the heavy to Jack Reacher before their climactic rooftop fistfight, and we're inclined to agree. In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Tom Cruise returns as the titular character, a mysterious former Army Major turned drifter who rights wrongs with clinched fists and jaw. This time, Reacher, who made his way to Washington, D.C. for what he hoped to be a booty call with his replacement in command of his unit, Major Cobie Smulders, finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy within the Army to frame Smulders for the deaths of two of her soldiers in Afghanistan. Somehow, this involves a shadowy network of arms dealers, and even more somehow, it places a teenage girl who may or may not be Reacher's daughter played by Danika Yarosh in harm's way. Suddenly, tough guy loner Jack Reacher ends up on the run with an ersatz family and may have been a deadbeat dad all along. He looks as happy about it as we are.
The previous Jack Reacher film written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie was a solid thriller that established Reacher as the smartest bad ass in any room. In Never Go Back, Edward Zwick, who took over the helm and co-wrote the screenplay, does away with most of Reacher's vaunted brain power. Reacher retains the uncanny ability to spot evil mercenaries tailing him, but that's about all he can do anymore. Reacher spends the whole movie puzzling out the conspiracy against Smulders, and that's nothing compared to the mystery of whether Yarosh really is his daughter, which he never does suss out until Yarosh literally spells it out for him. The previous film also established that Reacher was irresistible to women, but Never Go Back does a total 180 on that. Boy, is Reacher now a dick - rude, sexist, and unappealing - which half the women in the movie including Smulders are at pains to point out. Reacher's a total Jackoff in Never Go Back.
Cruise, who produced Never Go Back, seems inexplicably hellbent on subverting audience expectations of what a Tom Cruise movie is. Cruise spends 99% of Never Go Back willfully suppressing his patented Tom Cruise charm, his face frozen in a scowl throughout the entire movie as if he's wearing an Angry Tom Cruise version of those masks everyone dons in his Mission: Impossible films. Who ever thought Tom Cruise would hold Tom Cruise's smile hostage, and why? In place of charms or brains or a plot audiences can follow and invest in, Never Go Back substitutes running. See Reacher run. Run, Reacher, run. Never Go Back makes Cruise and whomever is with him, usually Smulders, run enough to equal the running in any three prior Tom Cruise movies. Cruise and Smulders seemingly spent their rehearsal time practicing endless wind sprints, rather than creating a believable romantic chemistry. Never Go Back also sets the record for the number of cell phones slipped into characters' pockets in a movie. As you leave the theater, you'll be sure to check your own pockets to see if someone slipped you a burner phone, as you silently promise to never go back if Jack Reacher returns for a threepeat.