For those who never saw 2012’s Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise played a former Army military police commander who, disillusioned with the job, grabbed his toothbrush and hit the road. In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, it’s been ages since Cruise’s character was discharged, but military types keep trying to salute him, and every time someone in uniform calls him by his former rank, “Major Reacher,” he stiffens a little and responds, “ex-major.” Unfortunately, Cruise seems to be shockingly ill suited for the sort of terse rough-and-tumble that a Jack Reacher outing demands.
Cruise can still be counted on to frequently sprint on-camera, but here he comes across as a shadow of the star we’ve known him to be. “TOM CRUISE is JACK REACHER,” read the ads for the 2012 film, and yet, a more accurate description might have been, “TOM CRUISE pretends to be JACK REACHER.” The character that was an awkward fit for the actor four years ago seems to be even more so now, if only because Cruise’s greatest asset is his charisma, while Reacher is a stoic, stone-cold heavy. From Bond to Bourne, such action heroes have become the cliché these days, showing an almost sociopathic lack of feeling as they go about their efficient ultraviolence. But Cruise, who always seems to be half-smiling in everything else he does, seems far too serious in the role, leaving room for the ladies, Smulders and Yarosh, to steal the show.
Better to leave the ruthlessness to the villain, a mercenary hit man (Patrick Heusinger) hired by a corrupt military contractor. The whole mess began with the deaths of two soldiers under Turner’s command — deaths for which she is being held accountable — and as the mystery unfolds, we learn that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that anyone who catches wind of the massive conspiracy, including Turner and Reacher, ends up in the hit man’s cross-hairs. The fact that the scenes are set in three of the most tired action-movie venues imaginable — a kitchen, a warehouse, and a shipping dock— just goes to show the sequel’s lack of inspiration. Even the New Orleans finale is technically a rehash of something James Bond went through in 1973’s Live and Let Die, and again, as recently as the superior rooftop opening of last year’s Spectre. Cruise and company should have taken their own advice: Never go back.