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: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”)
Written by: Richard Wenk (“The Equalizer”) and Nic Pizzolatto (debut)
Movies are often compared to theme park rides; sometimes that’s meant to evoke the thrills a viewer could experience along the way, while the more negative connotation could mean that the film takes you from point A to point B with little drama along the way. Some movies are built like rides at Disneyland: immersive and invigorating, enveloping you in a world far away from the line you waited in for two hours and 15 minutes before delivering you unharmed at an end result that, while fun, is not unexpected. Others are like an attraction at Six Flags: sure, it’s fun, too, but you can see the air conditioning units on top of the gift shop from every angle of the ride and you have to walk past a few ice machines for the adjacent snack bar on the way out.
The 2016 version of “The Magnificent Seven,” from director Antoine Fuqua, is a Six Flags ride of a pop-culture western. You can see the track the entire time, and you probably won’t want to buy the photo they take of you along the way, but the two hours and 15 minutes it took to get through the whole thing won’t feel like a waste of time.
When a crooked robber baron named Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) forcibly takes over the small mining town of Rose Creek in the years after the Civil War, killing and stealing indiscriminately from the populace, a widow (Haley Bennet) and her companion (Luke Grimes) hope to enlist the help of some gunfighters to free their town from Bogue’s grip. When they encounter honorable bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) in a nearby town, they talk him into their cause and prompt Chisolm to recruit a band of brave men to fight off the evil Bogue and his army of hired guns. Joining Chisolm are the rakish Farraday (Chris Pratt), legendary sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his quiet-yet-deadly assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), crazy mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and rebel Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier)—the so-called Magnificent Seven.
It feels like it’s been a while since a western was played as an action movie—these days they’re the domain of post-modern anti-heroes and moral conundrums. “The Magnificent Seven,” though, is just taking you from one place to another on horseback with some kicks along the way. There are times when the effortlessness actions of the heroes threatens to derail the whole endeavor—seriously, there are almost no obstacles for our heroes until the script dictates them—but it ultimately stays in the saddle long enough to be successful.
Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”)
Written by: Richard Wenk (“The Mechanic,” “16 Blocks”)
“The Equalizer” clearly owes its existence to Liam Neeson’s “Taken,” the Eurotrashy action film that kick-started the so-far Neeson-dominated movie genre of “old guy with a secret single-handedly takes out an entire cartel of bad guys,” only it seems to think it deserves more respect thanks to the presence and charisma of Academy Award-winning star Denzel Washington. It doesn’t, and if the film took itself less seriously, it might have been tons more fun.
Washington stars as Robert McCall, a quiet man living a quietly methodical life in Boston. Working at a Home Depot-ish hardware superstore, McCall is the model diligent employee, handling every situation with a smile and even taking personal time to coach his overweight coworker (Johnny Skourtis) who dreams of becoming a security guard if he can only make the target weight. McCall’s evenings are spent in a diner, where every night he brings his own teabags and a well-worn book. He frequently shares conversations with teenage prostitute Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), an aspiring singer who slowly opens up to McCall. One night after Alina goes missing after meeting a client, McCall discovers she has been beaten and put into the ICU. McCall pays a visit to her Russian mafia pimp, attempting to buy her freedom. When he is rebuffed, a switch flips and McCall draws upon some long-dormant training to brutally execute the entire crew. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg, as the full-force of the Russian underworld comes after McCall, who must take them on all alone.
Director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) indulges in far too many subplots to keep the movie as brisk as it needed to be. At over two hours, the bloat is obvious, featuring go-nowhere elements like cops that shake down a small Mexican restaurant and the never-ending saga of McCall’s kindly, obese coworker becoming a security guard that should have been left in the editing software’s recycle bin. Heavy-handed allegories to “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Don Quioxte” land with an audible thud, doing nothing except standing in the way of Washington— ever noble even when savagely murdering people — getting to the ass-kicking we all came to see. The outcome never remains in doubt, of course, but it would have been nice to have gotten there in a quicker, no-nonsense fashion.
Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn
Directed by: Simon West (“When a Stranger Calls”)
Written by: Richard Wenk (“16 Blocks”) and Lewis John Carlino (“I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”)
There are some big gun barrels to fill if you’re remaking a 40-year-old movie that originally starred Charles Bronson. Things get a bit easier, however, if your name happens to be Jason Statham.
Coming into his own as a viable B-movie action star over the last few years, Statham takes the lead in a new version of “The Mechanic,” a high-energy popcorn flick that feels like it was pulled straight out of the 70s and given a swift kick to the head.
Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, an experienced hit man who begins to train his mentor’s son Steve McKenna (Ben Foster) in the art of assassination after Steve’s father (Donald Sutherland) is caught up in a game of politics within the shadow organization.
“What I do requires a certain mindset,” Arthur tells Steve as the veteran killer teaches the rookie the most effective ways to end someone’s life. While Steve absorbs everything Arthur shows him, he doesn’t always like to take the clean and simple approach to the job.
The different methods in the way Arthur and Steve work make for an extraordinary relationship. Foster, one of the most exciting young actors currently making his rounds through Hollywood, matches up well with Statham’s fever pitch delivery. While both characters are brimming with brutality, it’s Foster’s that is written with more depth and style. You usually know what you’re getting with Statham and he doesn’t disappoint here.
Directed by Simon West (“When a Stranger Calls,” “Con Air”), “The Mechanic” is an unrelenting upgrade with a solid dose ultra violence, sex, and sense of humor. It doesn’t break any new ground, but the action sequences come with a combination of intensity and logic rare to find in movies with high body counts.