MY DAD is a massive Jack Reacher fan, having read all 17 of the Lee Child books that star the character—and he's not looking forward at all to Jack Reacher, the film based on the ninth Reacher book, One Shot.
"I'm not sure Tom Cruise fits my mental image of Reacher that's been developing for the last few years," he texted me when I told him there was a trailer for Jack Reacher in front of Skyfall. "Since Reacher is (according to the books) 6'4" and 275 pounds, where will Tommy get lifts to fit the bill? Maybe the other actors will all top out at five feet." I told him that Cruise had reportedly worn platform shoes before, for Interview with the Vampire, another pulp adaptation in which his casting was met with fans' derision. "Yes," he shot back, "but can Tom unload on someone with his fist and make it look easy? And enjoyable? We will see."
Fact: Tom Cruise is neither 6'4" nor 275 pounds. But while I'll leave it to my dad to decide if Cruise does justice to the books' Reacher, I—a Reacher neophyte—thought he was pretty fantastic as a shrunken-down, streamlined version of a character who describes himself in no uncertain terms. ("You think I'm a hero?" Reacher asks at one point. "I'm not a hero. I'm a drifter with nothing to lose.") Maybe in an alternate universe, the Rock is 15 films into his own film series playing Child's scary-smart, mysterious veteran with serious ass-kicking skills—but in this universe, I'll be happy if Cruise gets a few more chances to bloody up Reacher's leather jacket. Mostly because he does manage to use his fists to unload on someone—a bunch of someones, actually—and make it look easy. And enjoyable.
Well, enjoyable aside from a chilling opening sequence that comes entirely too soon after the Newtown shootings. That sequence—in which innocent passersby are taken out, coldly and efficiently, by a sniper—pulls Jack Reacher entirely too far into the real world. That isn't where he belongs: This is a guy who threatens people by saying ridiculous/amazing things like, "I'm going to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot," and this is a movie where, when the plot calls for a generic auto-parts store, an establishing shot shows off the façade of "DeFault Auto Parts."
Investigating the shootings, Reacher works (sometimes with a suspicious lack of a shirt) alongside attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike, sometimes with suspiciously low-cut professional attire), and in the process, butts heads with two other lawyers (David Oyelowo and Richard Jenkins), and trades quips with a doddering sharpshooter, Cash (Robert Duvall). Lurking in the shadows is a villain called "The Zec," who might be my favorite bad guy ever because (A) he's missing a bunch of fingers, (B) he has one milky-white eye, and, most importantly, (C) is played by none other than German director Werner Herzog, possessor of the greatest, most dour, most amazingly accented voice on the planet. Hearing Herzog gleefully say the following line is justification enough for buying a ticket: "I spent my first winter as a prisoner in Siberia wearing a dead man's coat. I chewed these fingers off before the frostbite could turn to gangrene."
Not that that's the only reason to see it: Director and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects and directed 2000's underrated The Way of the Gun, confidently paces Jack Reacher like a slick, character-based procedural that also happens to have some excellent—and surprisingly funny—action sequences. Like the best genre fiction, Jack Reacher doesn't try to reinvent anything; instead, it's content to stay just a few steps ahead of its competition. Cruise might not be my dad's Reacher, but he's likeable, tough, and intense enough to keep this movie powering ahead. He makes jokes the other characters are too nervous to laugh at and he whips a stolen, souped-up Chevelle SS through Pittsburgh's streets, but he's also clever enough to ditch the car when it gets too hot, instead taking a seat on a decidedly less-glamorous public bus. Not reinventing anything. Just staying a few steps ahead.