Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements
Running Time: 118 min.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Aldis Hodge, Holt McCallany, Robert Knepper, Madalyn Horcher
Director: Edward Zwick
Screenplay: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (based on the book, "Never Go Back" by Lee Child)

Review published October 23, 2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back continues the saga borne from the novels by Lee Child of the kick-ass drifter who ends up getting embroiled in yet another plot that requires him to use his abilities to stare down bad guys and rip open a can of whoop-ass in order to disentangle himself and all that is good from harm's way. It's a sequel to 2012's Jack Reacher, which did merely OK at the box office, but it's so generic in its delivery that one needn't bother to go back for this follow-up to make sense, although, it should be noted, that the first film is modestly competent in ways that Never Go Back is mostly not.

Tom Cruise (Edge of Tomorrow, Oblivion) returns as Reacher, who travels to Washington DC to meet up with the attractive Military Police officer Major Susan Turner (Smulders, Avengers: Age of Ultron) , only to find that she has been discharged from duties and has been arrested for espionage in connection with the killing of two American soldiers in Afghanistan. What's worse, Reacher also becomes a suspect linked to the murder of Turner's defense lawyer and gets apprehended. Sensing a frame job from within the military itself, Reacher and Turner have little choice but to go on the run in New Orleans and clear their own names by rooting out the source of the conspiracy involving a suspicious arms-dealing corporation before they, or the runaway teenager named Samantha (Yarosh, "Heroes Reborn"), who could be Reacher's daughter, end up becoming the next victims.

With this second entry, out is Christopher McQuarrie, who impressed Cruise enough for him to be given the reins of the most recent entry in the Mission: Impossible series, Rogue Nation, to big success.  Replacing McQuarrie is veteran director Edward Zwick, who worked with Cruise before in The Last Samurai, ostensibly brought in to the series to handle the softening of Reacher's harder edges. While Zwick is very experienced in delivering compelling drama, his handling of the tense action and suspense for prolonged periods isn't his strong suit, resulting in a very generic follow-through that is barely distinguishable from dozens of other Hollywood efforts done by less experienced helmers.

The Bourne films are an obvious influence on the Jack Reacher series, with its emphasis on prolonged chase sequences where the protagonists walk or run from location to location, punctuated by hand-to-hand combat and fighting from low-rise rooftops, with clues both convenient and unexplainable to always keep the film from slowing down enough for us to start to find the logic loopholes in the plot. Much of the plot plays out like a procedural actioner from the 1980s and 1990s where the hero regularly makes threats to the bad guys while within seemingly no-win situations, then proceeds to carry out those threats to a tee.  It's the kind of muscle-headed actioner you could easily envision Arnie, Stallone, or Steven Seagal starring in, playing ad nauseam on TBS every other night of the week. While Tom Cruise certainly pulls off more intelligence and charisma than a character you'd find in one of those formula films, Never Go Back still frustrates because it rarely requires the actor to stretch beyond his taciturn nature to deliver many emotional beats other than barely tolerant or outright pissed off. 

The supporting cast beyond Cruise is a bit of a liability, particularly in the introduction of the high-strung teenage girl character, ostensibly to bring some levity and a protective side from Reacher, but mostly serves to annoy due to her petulant personality, as well as her inability to follow instructions even when her life is in danger.  One you see that Sam is being taught a maneuver to get herself out of a jam while taken hostage at gunpoint, the inevitability of this occurring in the climax is secure.  Cobie Smulders fares a bit better in playing a military leader nearly as capable of Jack Reacher himself, and adds a bit of romantic tension, but there really isn't much of a character there for her to sink her teeth into beyond what's needed for specific scenes, mostly to entice the lone-wolf Reacher to accept the possibility of a family dynamic, if he could find a woman and child willing to run, jump, and get pissed every bit as much as he does.

With cartoonish heavies, plot points that exist merely to get the characters to the next one, and low-aiming action set pieces on the agenda, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back coasts almost wholly on Cruise's charisma within an action vehicle, which, given Reacher only has a couple of discernible personality traits, gets very tired, very quickly.  While the first film delivers moderate entertainment, this sequel delivers its ultimate message to fans in the title; don't go back for round two.

Qwipster's rating:

2016 Vince Leo