Jack Reacher? Yes, he did

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Never has a movie been more aptly subtitled than the newest Tom Cruise action thriller Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. I really wish he hadn’t.

In the tradition of Jason Bourne and Taken, this is yet another dip into the former military man living life off the grid, but ceaselessly being drawn back in to save the world or a daughter; and in the case of this film, both.

There are two basic plots in this movie. First, Tom Cruise rescues and then helps Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Low Expectations) find out who killed soldiers under her command, ultimately uncovering what looks like an arms-dealing conspiracy with its fingers in the U.S. military.

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Back to TV for Smulders after this stinker

Complicating matters, however, is the idea that Cruise may have a daughter, played by Danika Yarosh in what appears to be her first major role. And in keeping with the schtick of man who is invulnerable because he has no ties, Cruise reaches out to his erstwhile daughter only to have the bad guys see this and take advantage.

Now, whenever watching a movie billed as Action-Thriller, you forgive a lot. If everyone did the right thing, this would be neither active, nor thrilling. But in this movie, the two supposedly smartest people in the room—Cruise’s Jack Reacher and Yarosh’s street-wise Samantha—behave incredibly stupidly, routinely telling the world “Hey, we’re over here!”

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Maybe Yarosh can act…not given a chance in this movie.

But again, this is all about the action, right?

Well, it would be if the action were more than a mere nod to those better films involving Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, James Bond, and Rob Roy (okay, maybe the better Liam Neeson parallel is Taken). Instead, the action is sparse, predictable and formulaic. Cruise may be known for doing his own stunts, but he was at little risk of being injured on this set.

Okay, but it has thrills, right? Twists and turns that constantly kept you guessing?

The only thing that kept me guessing in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back was what time it was and how close we were to the end of the movie. From almost the opening moments, you knew exactly who the bad guys were and how they were connected to each other.

This was a film that was totally devoid of reveals and reversals. It played out exactly as you thought it would, and in some cases, the dialogue was so telegraphed that the climactic (if only in where it occurs in the movie) scene bored you because you knew exactly how it was going to play out.

How bad could it possibly have been?

With about 10 minutes left to play, the theatre in which I watched the movie brought the houselights up. It was as though they wanted to protect everyone who worked on this movie from being outed by keeping us from seeing the credits clearly.

As my friend Danny and I discussed the movie (video to come), we agreed that this was a wink or two away from becoming a very fun satire of action-thriller movies. Sadly, those ocular gestures never arrived and the movie remained a sad reflection on the genre.

It’s movies like this that will send Cobie Smulders back to television and sadly, may stunt the career of Danika Yarosh. That it won’t crush Tom Cruise’s career is a sign that he probably is Lestat.

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See also:

Movie Review – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Danny F. Santos)

Sentimentality and Spinal Injuries (Richard Crouse)

Jack Reacher is a family guy thug in Never Go Back (Toronto Star)

Jason Bourne should have stayed home (review)

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Super-assassin Jason Bourne is trying to figure out who he really is. In doing so, he falls into a web of deceit and potentially world-crippling black ops, including the one that gave birth to him. People try to neutralize him…silly people.

Cars race through crowded streets. Shots are fired from every direction. People die just as they start to provide answers. More shots are fired. Bourne gets answers but no real resolution or peace.

If you expected any more from a Jason Bourne movie, then you will be seriously disappointed with the latest installment of the series based the lead character of the novels by Robert Ludlum. In fact, if you want more from a Jason Bourne story, read the novels by Robert Ludlum because they are insanely better than any of the movies.

[Some SPOILERS hereafter]

In the latest installment of the series, Matt Damon’s titular character is brought out of hiding by his former nemesis-turned-ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has hacked into the CIA server and stolen the complete dossiers of the agency’s Black Ops. She wants to turn the information over to a Julian Assange kind of character, but asks for Bourne’s help, enticing him with information about his father’s involvement in his creation as super-killer (think X-Files Fox Mulder).

After a momentary “I’m getting too old for this shit” and some personal sacrifice on the end of a bullet, Bourne is alone again and we are off to the races.

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The CIA Director (Tommy Lee Jones) wants him dead, relying on another super-assassin The Asset (Vincent Cassel) to get the job done, while IT-savvy CIA analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) sees an opportunity to advance her career and maybe replace her boss by bringing Bourne in. Oh, and in the background, there is something about the CIA having access to the personal information of everyone on the planet via the Internet and a Sergey Brin-like character.

Unless this is your first Jason Bourne movie, you know how this all plays out…and if it is your first Jason Bourne film, why should I spoil it for you?

If you are looking for 123 minutes in which to simply check your brain at the door, then this is an entertaining way to do that. Stuff blows up, people fight, lots of car chases. But nothing really happens that hasn’t happened in the previous movies. Much like a roller coaster, the ride can be exhilarating at moments, but once the ride stops, so does the exhilaration.

And that was my problem with the movie…the thrill is quite literally gone for me. Jason Bourne has become his own cliché, and the writers and directors of this series are simply repeating moments from the other incarnations.

Where they had an opportunity to do something truly interesting with this story—the moments we spend exploring Bourne’s relationship with and confusion about his father—the writer-director Paul Greengrass and writer Christopher Rouse give us the barest taste and scurry back to blowing shit up. Rather than offer any sense of discovery and revelation, they simply have a former agency hack fill in the background under threat of death.

Is toady ex machina a thing?

In the earlier incarnations of this series, I never knew what to expect. In this incarnation, I knew exactly what to expect and it was delivered each and every time with a pretty pink ribbon. Or was that faded red tape?

I’m going back to the books. At least Robert Ludlum knew how to write.

As for shit blowing up, back-stabbing political conspiracy, and disquieting Internet voyeurism, 123 minutes of Jason Bourne just can’t compete with 20 minutes of CNN.

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From Equalizer to minimizer (a review)

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Eighties are the new teens…as in everything you loved about the 1980s is coming to a theatre near you. As the latest example, we have Denzel Washington in the role of Robert McCall in a revisit (can’t really call it a reboot) of the television series The Equalizer.

The central conceit of both the film and television series is that McCall is a retired special forces agent (think CIA) who tries to help people out when they get run over by criminals, corporations or malevolent government forces.

Whereas in the TV show, we see his mission fully formed, the movie is a bit more of a prequel, showing us the transformation of McCall from quiet man to vigilante.

The movie opens with McCall being the happy guy working at a Home Depot, jovially chatting with co-workers and providing something of a father figure to his younger compatriots. But away from the job, we see that he is a loner, a man with a heavy psychological burden that keeps him from sleeping.

And it is this insomnia that links him to young prostitute Teri (aka Alina, played by Chloe Grace Moretz) who is fascinated by this man who sits in a diner at 3 am, drinking tea (he brings his own bag) and reading classic literature (we open with The Old Man and the Sea…the books are a metaphor for the character). Again, the father figure comes into play as McCall is one of the few men who treat her as a human being and challenge her to be the woman she wants to be, not the victim she is.

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And it is this bond that causes McCall to act when Teri is hospitalized by her Russian mobster pimp. A noble man, McCall offers to literally buy Teri’s freedom, but when the mobsters simply laugh him off, a life of brutality surfaces in the scarred knight and the world dissolves into chaos.

To give you any plot details beyond this would be to potentially spoil the movie.

Denzel Washington is an amazing actor and is wonderful in the role of Robert McCall. Offering a very different take on the character than his television predecessor Edward Woodward, the two actors share the ability to display a man who is outwardly in control of all situations but at the expense of always holding onto an inner torment that they are afraid to acknowledge, let alone unleash.

But whereas the TV equalizer rarely got his hands or his clothes dirty (compare TV poster below with film poster above), the film equalizer is willing to release a storm of martial arts and weaponry on the bad guys. Thus, the film is much more action packed than the TV show.

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To the credit of director Antoine Fuqua—who also directed Washington in Training Day—despite at least a dozen scenes of intense violence and blood-letting, he does an amazing job of minimizing the amount of actual blood that reaches the screen. In part, he accomplishes this by shooting the most violent scenes in darkness such that you only really see light reflecting off dark puddles. Likewise, when McCall does resort to using make-shift weapons (remember, he works in a Home Depot), the camera often switches to McCall’s face as he uses the weapon rather than to weapon and victim.

Unfortunately, McCall is such a cool and controlled customer that I never really worry about him. I cheer his victories when he vanquishes the dragon, but I find it difficult to really attach myself emotionally to the man. I like the quiet man, but I find the killing machine to be just that, a machine; an automaton that does not touch my heart. And with the exception of a handful of moments, we never really get a chance to appreciate the toll these actions take on him.

The other place I feel the story falls down is in the use of the Russian mobster sent to clean up the mess that McCall started, a man simply known as Teddy. Played by Marton Csokas, Teddy and McCall are equals. The same side of the same coin. Equally smart. Equally charming. Equally viscious. And as such, the only real threat in the entire film to McCall.

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(As a side note, if this role is any indication, we want to keep our eye on Marton Csokas. He will do amazing things.)

There are a couple of scenes where the two men literally face each other and calmly discuss the situation. One scene in particular is the best thing in this movie from my perspective. While on one level being the calmest moment in the movie, it is also the most chilling because of that calm. You really don’t know what’s going to happen.

And that’s where my problem lies.

Having set up the perfect opponent for McCall, the writer Richard Wenk (who also penned The Expendables 2) doesn’t really deliver. The audience was promised an epic show down between these two characters, but while they do clash, it is anything but epic (photo below is not from clash).

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The Equalizer is entertaining. It is a wonderful diversion that requires little thought of its audience. It is Jason Bourne for the middle-aged set (but with enough carnage to keep the young’uns interested). It should, however, have been better.

But when it comes right down to it, the studios don’t really care if you like it, because they are already working on the sequel.