There are bad movies that are just painful to watch and then there are movies so ludicrously misconceived that they become ironic spectacle. Jack Reacher falls into the latter category. The reason is simple. The character comes from Lee Child’s series of novels and the movie based on book nine is intended as a mythmaking franchise starter. On the page Jack Reacher is a 6’7 violent Iraq veteran drifter who intimidates everyone in his path on his way to righting wrongs while off the grid.
In the movie he’s played by Tom Cruise and yet the screenplay has been in no way altered to accommodate that fact. Every character is immediately intimidated by the eerily perky, short, well-dressed, 50-year-old man. There’s no reason for that beyond Cruise’s ego and it’s just the start of the absurdly misconceived puffed up action movie fantasy to follow. It’s a movie that gets so much wrong it starts to be right, playing like the pitch perfect action parody of McGruber, only without actually going for those laughs. By the time Werner Herzog shows up in a cameo as the generic German villain, you just have to laugh and be grateful that someone allowed such spectacular mess to be made on such a massive scale.
The film opens with an admittedly fantastic (and admittedly stolen from Brian DePalma) sniper sequence in which an unknown shooter coldly and inexplicably kills a collection of innocent bystanders. Within minutes a hard boiled detective (David Oyelowo) arrests an army vet with a background in unexpected assassinations. During interrogation, he refuses to speak though. He simply passes a note saying “find Jack Reacher.” So who is Jack Reacher? He’s a purple heart winning war vet who specialized in solving war crimes. He’s a physical threat to anyone who stands in his way and sexual napalm to any lady who dares to step into that danger zone as well. He lives off the grid with no name, address, or social security number. He’s a drifter who wanders the land solving crimes and doing what’s right with his lethal fists. He’s also Tom Cruise and therefore you won’t buy any of it for a second. Tom arrives in town where, through a bizarre screenwriting contrivance, the potential sniper is being defended by the daughter (Rosamund Pike) of the district attorney (a wasted Richard Jenkins). Since she’s all pretty n’ stuff, Cruise agrees to look into the crime even though there’s a 99.9% chance the police caught the right man. Reacher knows he can sort out that 0.1% thought, because he’s friggin’ Tom Cruise.Every character is immediately intimidated by the eerily perky, short, well-dressed, 50-year-old man and there’s no reason for that beyond Cruise’s ego
What follows is almost impossible to explain. Reacher seems to be able to spot a conspiracy at will and solve complex crimes in an instant just by making really serious faces and talking out loud. Any time someone steps in his way, he boots them in the bum. Any time a lady sees him (especially with his shirt off) they just can’t control themselves. Reacher doesn’t have time for the ladies though (much like a certain mysteriously asexual Scientologist), so he just goes about his business of setting the world straight. Eventually it turns out that all the killing boils down to a conspiracy involving a shady corporation led by Werner Herzog’s diabolically German The Zec. Nothing really makes much sense beyond Tom Cruise = good and everyone else = bad, but this isn’t the type of movie where that matters. This is the type of flick in which it’s instantly clear each plot thread will be more ludicrous than the last, so at a certain point you let logic disappear and just laugh along with all the nonsense tossed at the screen.
The film oddly comes from Oscar-winner Christopher McQuarrie. Back when he wrote The Usual Suspects, the guy was a master of this brand of hard boiled crime entertainment. Not so much these days though. There might have been a time before the ridiculous central casting when Jack Reacher could have been a passable bad-to-the-bone thriller. Not after Cruise though and McQuarrie seems to know it. He crafts some pretty pictures and stages decent action scenes, while every dialogue scene is played with characters whispering while standing 2 inches from each other’s face. The cumulative effect ensures that you can’t take a second of the mess seriously and Cruise’s misplaced masculinity often feels like action movie parody. It says a lot about Cruise’s presumed insanity and assumed wild ego that he wouldn’t even blink at the thought of playing a character than in no way suits his physicality. Not one word of the screenplay was altered to accommodate the fact that Jack Reacher is not only a foot too short, but Tom f-ing Cruise and it’s hilarious to watch grown men terrified by the sight of a short pretty boy movie star, who I guess is threatening entirely because he wears a leather jacket and scowls a lot. When he’s seducing ladies, he’s so disinterested that those scenes also feel like parodies of macho love. Cruise may have been trying to launch a new gritty action hero for himself, but instead he’s delivered a 2.5 hour example of why he’s no longer a viable action lead. None of the supporting cast fare much better.
Pike’s performance is limited to pulling googly eyed scared faces or pushing her boobs together towards the camera and it’s even harder to watch than it sounds. Robert Duvall pops up in a gunstore cameo that feels like a sad act of charity (though I’m not sure if that’s charity for or from Duvall). The only guy who comes out unscathed is Herzog. Appearing in only three scenes, he’s knowingly playing a parody of a movie villain and his introductory monologue about biting off his fingers while wearing a human suit in a Siberian prison will be a youtube classic the second someone uploads it. Given that Herzog’s career is defined by bizarre left-field choices, this one feels like par for the course and a hilarious blockbuster pit stop before directing five movies in a single year once more. Herzog is a true original and seeing him play a terrible movie villain is just one more eccentric feather in his nutball cap.
By the time Werner Herzog shows up in a cameo as the generic German villain, you just have to laugh and be grateful that someone allowed such spectacular mess to be made on such a massive scale.”So…yeah, Jack Reacher is a bad, bad movie filled with awful acting, worse writing, pedestrian action, and all presented so seriously that it only makes the failure that much funnier. While it is undeniably about 30 minutes too long, the film is never, ever boring. This is the type of bad movie that instantly turns into a camp classic and we can expect many montages and parodies to flood the internet once word gets out. That won’t happen for a few months though. The irony lovers will discover this on DVD. In theaters, only disappointed Tom Cruise fans will attend and word of mouth will be deadly. In a way, you’ve got to feel bad for Tom Cruise. Just when the guy was getting back some credibility after the success of Tropic Thunder and Mission Impossible 4 he delivered what might be the two worst movies he’s ever made in the same year (the other was Rock Of Ages since you’ve probably already forgotten it). He’s dug a deep hole for himself and while I’m sure him, his people, or the Church Of Scientology will pull him out, let’s hope that he comes back with a new approach. As much as Ghost Protocol proved he could still do his old thing, Jack Reacher proves that those glory days are over. If he’s smart he’ll skip action movies except for the M:I serious and work on expanding his character acting catalogue when he’s not blowing things up as Ethan Hunt. I think he’s smart enough to do that, but then again he was also dumb enough to make Jack Reacher, so who the hell knows?