Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’, Please!

There isn’t a single moment of genuine peril in this listless action-thriller.

The ironically titled Jack Reacher: Never Go Back might be the most unnecessary sequel of 2016. That’s really saying something in a year that includes Blair Witch.

Director Edward Zwick and blockbuster starved Tom Cruise (in full-on Cyborg mode for this lifeless outing) have no intention of pushing action-thriller boundaries. Instead, they roll out tired storylines about lost daughters and clumsy fistfights that couldn’t pass muster on an MMA undercard. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is like cinematic Xanax, defusing tension at every possible turn in favor of predictable twists and listless action.

First, let’s get this out of the way: Tom Cruise does not make a believable bad-ass. Regardless of your feelings about the cinematic adaptation of Lee Child’s prolific literary franchise, Cruise is undeniably ill-suited for the lead role and it undermines every minute of Never Go Back.

Cruel as this may sound, it’s actually a compliment. Despite all the hate (some justified, some irrational), Tom Cruise is a talented actor, particularly in the realms of comedy and action. He can go over the top in Tropic Thunder or understated in Edge of Tomorrow and be equally effective. Nobody runs, jumps, and clings to airplanes better than Tom Cruise.

He falters, however, when he tries to play ‘Stoic Hero’. Stoic Cruise is an impenetrable void of charisma on the screen; bereft of the roguish charm, physical vitality, and surprising vulnerability that punctuate his finest turns. Simply put, Cruise requires both words and actions to create a compelling screen presence.

Director Edward Zwick (Pawn Sacrifice, Blood Diamond) and his screenwriters further inflame the situation by creating one of the dullest, least likeable action heroes in recent memory. Compared to the bloodier and more imaginative ‘one man killing machine’ movies such as John Wick and The Accountant, Jack Reacher feels like a vanilla, PG-13 dinosaur as he lumbers from one lackluster action sequence to the next. The filmmakers are clearly striving for more realism and less hyper-stylized violence with Never Go Back, but this is little more than a clunky potboiler with a sprinkling of sentimentality.

Reacher, an “Ex Major” with the United States Army, is hitchhiking his way to nowhere in particular when he forms a long-distance relationship with the ultra-foxy, ultra-ripped, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). They make tentative plans for a dinner date, which will, presumably, involve a spirited cardio workout and the finest bottled water that money can buy.

When Jack travels to Washington D.C. in the hopes of getting lucky, he finds that Major Turner has been stripped of her rank and thrown into the pokey for espionage. It seems that two of the soldiers under her command were murdered while investigating some missing hi-tech weapons in Afghanistan. Turner gets framed, Reacher gets mad, and a bunch of arms get broken.

What follows is two hours of Turner and Reacher tracking clues to solve a mystery that nobody cares about or understands. All paths lead back to the shadowy security firm called Para Source, which enlists a contract killer known only as The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger) to irritate Reacher with a series of futile assassination attempts. Oh, and Reacher might have a mischievous teenage daughter named Sam (Danika Yarosh) who draws in a sketch book and steals things.

Will she steal Jack Reacher’s heart? Does Jack Reacher even have a heart?

Described as “feral” by the people who actually like him, Reacher seems to feel nothing… for anyone. Oddly, he bears a striking resemblance to another feral nomad; Mad Max. George Miller understands that Max is a blank slate who rediscovers the remnants of his humanity by grudgingly helping others. Max, as evidenced by the triumphant Fury Road, is emotionally crippled; a secondary character in his own story.

Unlike Miller, however, Zwick makes his disaffected “hero” the emotional core of his film. The result, unsurprisingly, is a film bereft of soul or humanity. Jack Reacher ticks off its plot points like a methodical robot, with Reacher neither growing nor learning anything in the process. The only emotion you feel is pity for the plucky Sam, who might as well be trying to win the love of a Cyborg.

The action sequences are equally uninspired. Cruise and Smulders run their little hearts out, pounding the pavement in both D.C. and New Orleans. Unfortunately, nearly every sequence ends the same depressing way; a barrage of awkward haymakers that more closely resembles a drunken brawl than a choreographed fight.

Worse still, Zwick seems intent upon diffusing the tension whenever possible. When a couple of thugs follow Reacher onto an airplane, for instance, Zwick bypasses the inherent tension of confinement with a few swift punches and a pithy one-liner. Another scene finds Reacher seemingly cornered in an alleyway, only to find a conveniently placed door to facilitate his escape. Honestly, there isn’t a single moment of genuine peril in this entire film.

It’s hard to imagine Jack Reacher: Never Go Back finding much of an audience. We don’t care about the hero, the story is boring, and there are no memorable action scenes to capture the imagination. Cobie Smulders makes a persuasive argument for action hero status, but she has zero chemistry with the brooding Cruise. There’s not much fun to be had, and even less excitement. Mercifully, if feels like Jack Reacher has reached the end of the line.

RATING 3 / 10