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: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jaime Bell
Directed by: Edward Zwick (“Blood Diamond”)
Written by: Edward Zwick (“The Last Samurai”) and Clayton Frohman (“The Delinquents”)
British comedian Ricky Gervais might have been only kidding around during this year’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony when he told actress Kate Winslet that critical acclaim will always come when an actor stars in a Holocaust movie, but with the onslaught of films on the topic released last year, one or two of them were bound to miss the mark on historical captivation.
While Holocaust films like “The Reader” and “Valkyrie” produced fine material in their respected genre, others like “The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas” and “Defiance” do not hold interest for their entire runtimes. Although a true story like “Defiance” is an amazing anecdote on the surface, director/co-writer Edward Zwick has trouble creating an interesting community for his characters to thrive, which is basically the entire premise.
Actors Daniel Craig (“Quantum of Solace”), Live Schreiber (“The Manchurian Candidate”), and Jaime Bell (“King Kong”), play the Bielski brothers – Tuvia, Zus, and Asael – three Jews who escape Poland and hide out in the Belarussian forest for two years during World War II. There, the men create a “forest camp,” a makeshift society of other exiled Jews who are trekking through the woods to flee the Nazis. As their numbers grow, the Jewish survivors begin to form not only a new community to live in, but also a rebellion to fight back.
Adapted from the book “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” by Nechama Tec, the idea that 1,200 Jews were able to evade death for two years is quite incredible and definitely a noteworthy chapter for any world history book. But as a film, Zwick and company horde the film’s characters into a tedious collection of one-dimensional throwaways in a talky and thematically unbalanced script. There’s no denying that “Defiance” is a film about bravery, but when the courageousness of an army is illustrated by how many soapbox speeches one can deliver, audiences can definitely count on an excessive waiting period before there is a satisfactory conclusion. It’s not until Zwick stops riding the break, however, when that actually happens.