Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge
Directed by: Edward Zwick (“Blood Diamond”)
Written by: Richard Wenk (“The Magnificent Seven”), Edward Zwick (“Love & Other Drugs”), Marshall Herskovitz (“Love & Other Drugs”)
In the movie landscape of constant sequels, it may not always make narrative sense to come back for more, but there’s almost always a monetary reason to do it. Original films (or films made to be tentpole franchises) perform so well at the box office that going back and making more of those films is, at worse, less of a financial risk and at best, studios practically printing their own money. It’s why there was a collective shrug and head scratch when it was announced that Paramount was going back for another installment of the Tom Cruise vehicle “Jack Reacher.” The reception for the first film was mixed, and it only grossed $80 million in North America, which is pretty modest for a film marketed as a potential blockbuster. Yet here we are, with an unwanted sequel in hand: the ironically titled “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.”
As Jack Reacher (Cruise) returns back to his military base to visit a friend and colleague, Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), he discovers that she has been arrested and charged with espionage. Suspecting something has ran afoul, Reacher works to break Turner out of prison and along the way, discovers a girl who just may be his biological daughter. From there, Turner, Reacher and his possible daughter fight to stay hidden and take down their enemies while keeping each other safe.
A better title of this film would have been “Jack Reacher: Military Dad” as the main narrative through-line is the idea of Reacher coping with possibly being a father. There are, of course, generic scenes of him being a hardass and acting like he doesn’t care about things. Or when he and Cobie Smulders’ character have super on-the-nose “parental” fights. It’s just such a lazy, ho-hum story that is sandwiched in between a lazy, ho-hum action film. There is some somewhat surprising brutality, but beyond that, nothing on screen feels meaningful and Cruise doesn’t seem particularly interested.
The last act of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” contain some of the most contrived, Hollywood-fake, lazy moments I’ve seen in any film this year. The only appropriate word to describe the way events plan out is “insulting.” Ever heard of the concept of “Chekov’s gun?” The idea that nothing is shown on screen unless it will play out somehow? This is basically Chekov’s everything. Every twist, turn and plot point can be seen from 400 miles away. Being unpredictable would be one thing, but it happens in such a hokey way that it is deprived of any emotion. It’s a truly awful sequence of events.
A look at Tom Cruise’s most recent film output shows that he is still mainly focused on being an action star. The problem is, the market desire for perennial kick ass action-star driving vehicles seems to be dwindling with the saturation of comic book films. It’s also a reality that Cruise is a man in his early to mid 50’s continuing to pursue his career as an action hero. There’s no question he’s got acting chops and a magnetic personality on screen. He can certainly keep making “Mission Impossible”’s 13 and 14 until he gets physically unable to hang off of jets and scale large buildings, but if the staleness if “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is any indication, it may be time for Cruise to re-consider the direction of his career.
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Ken Scott (“Starbuck”)
Written by: Ken Scott (“Starbuck”) and Martin Petit (“Starbuck”)
In “Delivery Man,” manchild and meat company delivery truck driver Dave Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) faces parenthood in a way he couldn’t have imagined: as a sperm donor, he is the biological father of 533 kids. Through this process, Dave finds out that 142 of these children are pursuing a lawsuit against him in order to discover his identity after his privacy forms from the clinic are under the alias of “Starbuck.” As Dave seeks out his children and spends time trying to take care of them, he wrestles with the idea of revealing his identity.
To his credit, Vaughn bucks his conventional role of the fast-talking, neurotic jokester seen in most of his roles and turns in a more subdued performance. It’s a welcome change, especially since his role in this year’s “The Internship” further proved that his schtick is wearing thin, but it is perhaps too dialed back and at times a little lifeless. Most of the humor from the film comes from his lawyer friend Brett played by Chris Pratt (TV’s “Parks and Recreation”), who is knocking on the doorstep of stardom with roles in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the long-awaited fourth installment of the “Jurassic Park” franchise. While Pratt’s full range of comedic abilities isn’t put to use, he is the funniest part of the film and is able to inject some energy into a picture that is surprisingly dour.
Tone is a big problem for “Delivery Man.” It’s almost difficult to call it a comedy, not just because it isn’t particularly funny, but there seems to be a lack of jokes being made at all. The film overshoots for far too many dramatic moments, many of which feel manufactured. There is also an issue with the conceivability of the story. While the narrative might be loosely based on real life situations of sperm donors fathering large amounts of kids, 533 is such a preposterous number to choose that it distracts from the movie itself.
As a comedy, the most humorous part of “Delivery Man” might be the irony that a movie containing a central plot line of a man who donated enough sperm to father a small army of children is being distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. It’s riddled with problems, but its main downfall is its lowkey tone that at times robs the film of any vibrancy. Some of the more sentimental moments are well-executed and it’s nice to see Vaughn branch out and try a new role, but ultimately, “Delivery Man” can’t get out of neutral.
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”)
Written by: Leslie Bohem (“The Alamo”) and Dana Stevens (“City of Angels”)
It’s the week of Valentine’s Day and many men everywhere are preparing to give their wives, girlfriends and dates the best gift they can: trying to sit through a Nicholas Sparks book adaptation. The latest challenge comes in the form of “Safe Haven,” Sparks’ most recent book about a girl fleeing an abusive boyfriend.
In “Safe Haven,” a woman named Katie (Julianne Hough) arrives in a small North Carolina town where she hopes to start a new life. There, she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widowed father of two who works at the local general store. Apprehensive and scared at first, Katie tries to move on all while looking over her shoulder for her ex, who is searching for her.
The first hour of “Safe Haven” is actually not all that bad. Sure, there is some jarring editing that randomly bounces back and forth between Katie’s new life and her boyfriend who is on the prowl for her. And let’s not forget the average acting from the chronically paranoid Hough and flimsy, useless characters like her friend Jo (Cobie Smulders). Let’s not forget the predictable romantic storyline that weaves its way through the first half of the film. But there’s also things that are okay, namely the charming and grounded performance from Duhamel who plays a devoted father and romantic lead quite well. There’s also a really nice performance from the adorable Mimi Kirkland who plays his daughter Lexi. The word good is perhaps too strong, but even though the romance is predictable and schmaltzy and the script is at times sickeningly saccharine, the first half of the film is relatively watchable.
The back half of the film is a different story. As things intensify and truths reveal themselves, Katie’s world becomes endangered and the film begins to crumble. The style of jumping back and forth between her life in North Carolina and her boyfriend trying to hunt her down wears out its welcome as the transitions become even more distracting when they start to include what really happened in her past. Events happen in the climax of the film that should have massive consequences but are for whatever reason completely ignored.
Then there’s the ending. The first wrinkle of the film’s ending is telegraphed and hokey and bad enough as it is. What follows can only be described as manipulative, nonsensical, god-awful garbage, and that is putting it lightly. It is a “twist” that turns out to form one of the dumbest endings to a film in recent memory. The bulk of the blame should belong to Sparks himself, since the book apparently shares the same ending. Audiences should be insulted that Sparks treats them like his own personal emotional marionettes, tugging at their strings and forcing them to react or cry by any means necessary.
While the film skirts the edge of watchability for a decent period of time, it is ultimately formulaic, factory-made, melodramatic dreck that is even further submarined by an ending so lame that even a sigh would roll its eyes at.