When “Jack Reacher” came out, in 2012, its box-office performance was only so-so, leading fans to worry that the snappy, raucous action flick wouldn’t get a sequel. What a happy day when those fears proved false! And what a sad day when the follow-up, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” turns out to be a bland disappointment that bleaches nearly every colorful thing about the character. Instead of Jack Reacher, he’s any garden-variety prime-time TV detective, goin’ around, solvin’ crimes, and this is a run-of-the-mill episode. The credits even use the “Law & Order” font.
As the film begins, Reacher (Tom Cruise) is still off the grid, showing up when wrongs need to be righted or justice administered. He has a new contact in the Army, Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who apparently feeds these assignments to him. How he found her (they’ve never met in person) and how long this has been going on aren’t explained, but the implication is that they have many episodes’ worth of history together. So maybe this is the second or third season of the Jack Reacher TV show?
Anyway, this week’s wrongly accused military officer is … Maj. Turner herself! When Reacher shows up in D.C. for an impromptu first-time face-to-face visit, Turner has coincidentally just been arrested a day earlier, charged with espionage pertaining to two Army analysts killed in Afghanistan. Her crusty Army lawyer, Col. Moorcroft (Robert Catrini), barks two pieces of information to Reacher: 1) that Turner does NOT want him getting involved in the investigation, even though she’s innocent and Reacher is very good at clearing innocent people’s names (this is not explained); and 2) someone has filed a paternity suit with the Army, claiming that ex-Maj. Jack Reacher has a 15-year-old daughter.
All the pieces are on the board by the first commercial break. Reacher breaks Turner out of Army jail, and they find the alleged daughter, a streetwise shoplifter named Samantha (Danika Yarosh). Her life is in danger now too, because someone was spying on Reacher when he was spying on her, so the three of them go on the lam while playing Sherlock, pursued by various possibly corrupt Army officers and military police.
The first Jack Reacher movie (adapted, like this one, from a novel by Lee Child) was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects,” “The Way of the Gun”), and it had his blunt, stylish wit. The sequel, directed by vanilla-flavored Edward Zwick (“The Last Samurai,” “Blood Diamond”), was written by Zwick, his frequent collaborator Marshall Herskovitz, and Richard Wenk (“16 Blocks”). It’s defanged and ordinary, almost devoid of sharp dialogue, and has no compelling fight scenes. (Reacher’s latest skill is punching people exactly hard enough to knock them unconscious without causing a stir.) The banter is along these lines:
TURNER (after being rescued): Why do I feel like you’re enjoying this?
REACHER: You have a funny way of saying thank you.
Oh, man! Will this be the episode where Reacher and Turner finally kiss??
Even on auto-pilot, Cruise’s charisma is a remarkable thing, and Cobie Smulders is a welcome addition whether she gels with Cruise or not (she doesn’t). Adding a teenager to the mix, unsurprisingly, only weighs the film down further preventing Jack Reacher from fulfilling his awesome potential. It’s like they conscientiously took everything that people liked about the first movie and weakened it. Now watch, THIS one will make $500 million and they’ll make five more just like it.
C (1 hr., 58 min.; )