Tom Cruise returns as the former military investigator in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.
During the late ’80s through the ’90s, there was no bigger star than Tom Cruise, whose nearly every movie was considered a cultural moment that spawned catchphrases. Age and the utter impossibility of sustaining that level of fame forever have made the release of each successive Tom Cruise movie less of an event, but 30 years after Top Gun, Cruise soldiers on as a credible action star, as he does with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, his second turn as the former military investigator. No one will walk out of the film repeating lines from the movie as they did “Show me the money” from Jerry Maguire or the unprintable ones from Magnolia, but Jack Reacher: Never Go Back still satisfies in the same way that nearly every Cruise movie does.
The secret to Cruise’s enduring popularity as a movie star and an action hero is that, unlike most of his contemporaries, Cruise makes what he does look difficult. Cruise will endure whatever physical pain necessary, or at least give the credible appearance of hurt; there is never a Tom Cruise action movie in which he doesn’t look like he earned his multimillion dollar paycheck. This is even more apparent now that Cruise has progressed well past the age of action heroes at their peak. Cruise will likely maintain a boyish appearance well into old age, but his slightly weathered countenance suits him. The Tom Cruise during the peak of his fame could have never been credible as a guy as tough as Reacher, but here it works better than when he was in peak physical shape.
As an action film, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back satisfies even if it never reaches the heights of Cruise’s classics or even last year’s thrilling nearly comic romp Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. The plot of the film is relatively inconsequential: In order to save one of his former military colleagues (Cobie Smulders, famously not the title role of “How I Met Your Mother”), Reacher breaks her out of military prison and they investigate the deaths of several of her soldiers and unravel a conspiracy that, not surprisingly, implicates powerful yet corrupt persons whose identities don’t quite matter. It is merely an excuse for Cruise to punch, jump, kick and endure the same from his enemies. Naturally, Cruise does all of this very well.
The only interesting character details involve the presence of a teenage girl who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter (Danika Yarosh of last year’s “Heroes” reboot). Despite his doubts that Samantha is his daughter – the paternity claim is spurious at best – the film has at least a few good moments in which the two characters negotiate just how much they should bond considering the strong possibility that they are not related. Smulders also does good work here as a woman with few maternal impulses who nonetheless forces herself to play that role.
The real draw of any Tom Cruise action movie is the simple pleasure of seeing fights, chases and explosions, and even though nothing reaches the level of either Bond or Bourne, they get the job done. Few will remember Jack Reacher: Never Back Down in the way that so many of Cruise’s classics have endured, but it would be hard to feel disappointed at Tom Cruise doing what he has long done so well.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
In theaters Oct. 21
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