Review: Jack Reacher is a discount crime novel turned Hollywood cinema
I can picture the dusty bookstore shelf labeled "Thrillers." At the top, the latest ghost-written Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum spy and crime novels. Somewhere near the bottom, slapped with a discount sticker, rests a copy of the latest Jack Reacher book. The cover bears the tagline, "The law has limits, he does not."
I've never actually read a Jack Reacher novel, but the film bearing the same name (based on the novel One Shot), paints a pretty good picture. This Tom Cruise joint doesn't adapt an endless pile of thrillers into gritty cinema the way Bourne and Bond do. It is closer to an homage, capturing the essence of a crime thriller novel you'd toss into your shopping cart while scooping up some groceries.
Jack Reacher is less a man and more a force who comes along to fix problems. The current one? A man wrongly accused for shooting five seemingly random people. What follows is a plot full of twists, ulterior motives, and snarling villains. Along the way we learn a thing or two about Reacher himself, but for the most part he is simply the man with nothing to lose.
I don't think we've had a hero like this in a while. Bond and Bourne spend as much time dealing with their demons as they do fighting the bad guys. Reacher is simply the confident face on the poster. He's the man without a past or a future, packaged up and ready to move the plot around in whatever story he's placed in. There's nothing tying him down to a next Jack Reacher movie, yet he's perfectly equipped to handle about a dozen more.
The result is a story that feels light and pulpy. It's clear that those involved in Jack Reacher had fun with it. Tom Cruise's delivery of so many cheesy one-liners and the appearance of Werner Herzog as a villain straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon should tell you the score. Jack Reacher is going for something different from the typical film thriller, while simultaneously capturing the most typical of crime fiction.
On some levels it works, and on some it doesn't. Much of Jack Reacher is endearingly clichéd, while sometimes it simply takes it a bit too far. I didn't always buy Cruise as the almighty mysterious hero. That said, he brings enough of his typical vim and vigor to Reacher that you can excuse the character's otherwise empty existence.
The requisite chase sequences and shoot outs are well-done, loud, and feature a few clever ideas. The story is stock and standard in a lot of ways, but it remains brisk and entertaining. The bottom line? Jack Reacher isn't going to set the world on fire, but it's good fun nevertheless.
If we judge art on how successfully it meets its goals, then Jack Reacher is a perfect rendition of thriller/crime novel schlock. It's the kind of thing you want to be in the mood for. If you are, you'll have a great time. If you've ever gone to a book store and grabbed the first novel you saw with a dark, handsome man holding a silenced handgun, regardless of who wrote it or how good it is, then you should probably give Jack Reacher a shot.