118 minutes | PG-13
Jack Reacher is back. No one seems to know why. The first filmic adventures of the former military investigator created by novelist Lee Child rustled up a “meh” at the box office in 2012, and I can’t imagine that anyone could recall a single detail about it today—other than, perhaps, that star and producer Tom Cruise bears little resemblance to the hulking, laconic man in the books.
And here we have a second movie no one was demanding, a sequel to a forgettable flick. This time, Reacher stumbles onto what looks like a big crime within the US Army itself, something to do with, maybe, decommissioned weapons from Afghanistan being sold on the black market. So he teams up with Major Susan Turner (the awesome Cobie Smulders, underutilized here), who now runs the military police investigation unit that Reacher once headed up. But, as she notes, black-market profits are small potatoes compared to the enormous sums to be made in legit government military contracts. So we end up with a story with surprisingly low stakes for a would-be action blockbuster. Turner’s own unit, Reacher’s former unit, appears to be dirty, and in a more clever movie, it would have been more than enough for them to both be fighting for the integrity and honor of the institution.
To make up for the nonexistent stakes, Never Go Back throws in a 15-year-old girl, Samantha, who may or may not be the daughter Jack Reacher never knew he had— yet another lazy movie idea that threatening a pretty young female is a good way to motivate a male protagonist. The bad guys will menace her until Reacher backs down, or gives them information they need (they are not very good at being bad), or whatever is needed to keep the action moving. This cinematic cliché is long past its expiration date.
Director Edward Zwick—reteaming with Cruise for the first time since 2003’s The Last Samurai, not a creative high point for either—has abandoned the one small bit of cleverness of the first movie. Jack Reacher made a virtue and a joke of the idea that a small man, as Cruise’s Reacher is, might use the size of big opponents against them in a hand-to-hand fight. There’s nothing like that here. If you stumble across this on Netflix six months from now, it will try your patience even if you’re only half watching it. As something worth your full attention and money on a big screen? No way.