‘Jack Reacher’ se­quel not as good as 2012 orig­i­nal

Malta Independent - - CINEMA - ■ Sandy Co­hen AP En­ter­tain­ment Writer

It’s not the act­ing or the ac­tion that makes “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” in­fe­rior to the orig­i­nal 2012 hit. It’s the story.

The first film, “Jack Reacher,” es­tab­lished the ti­tle char­ac­ter as a bril­liant, bru­tal loner ded­i­cated to jus­tice. He’s a for­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cer turned drifter, un­fet­tered by emo­tional ties, mo­ti­vated purely by ex­act­ing right­eous­ness.

What makes an ar­che­typal char­ac­ter like this fun to watch is an un­pre­dictable story, where the au­di­ence and pro­tag­o­nist to­gether un­cover the mys­tery. The 2012 film achieved this beau­ti­fully, pack­ing ac­tion into a com­pelling thriller that de­vel­oped the vil­lains as much as the hero.

In “Never Go Back,” the bad guys are one-di­men­sional car­i­ca­tures and the lone wolf is driven by pro­tect­ing a teenager whom he in­sists from the start isn’t his daugh­ter. This leaves the film rid­ing on its ac­tion se­quences and the charm of its cen­tral char­ac­ters, played by Tom Cruise and Co­bie Smul­ders. And while they’re in­cred­i­bly ap­peal­ing, they can’t do more than the story al­lows.

Cruise, who has made him­self this gen­er­a­tion’s ul­ti­mate ac­tion star, is per­fect as Jack Reacher. He’s steely, strong and al­most ac­ci­den­tally hand­some. The age­less ac­tor does most of his own stunts and ef­fec­tively uses his eyes to con­vey his char­ac­ter’s guarded sen­si­tiv­ity.

Smul­ders, who’s played a small role in the “Avengers” films, proves her­self an ac­tion star and lead­ing lady as Su­san Turner, an Army ma­jor who has taken over Reacher’s post in the mil­i­tary po­lice force. Turner is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mur­ders of two sol­diers in Afghanistan when she’s re­moved from her of­fice and jailed on es­pi­onage charges.

Reacher comes to her aid, but another of­fi­cial warns him off, taunt­ing him with a pend­ing pa­ter­nity law­suit that claims Reacher fa­thered a now 15-yearold girl. Reacher de­nies it, but goes af­ter the girl (Danika Yarosh) anyway. Sud­denly, he’ll do any­thing to pro­tect her.

This con­trivance un­does the sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief. Noth­ing about Reacher’s char­ac­ter sug­gests he’s yearn­ing for fa­ther­hood, and yet she be­comes his main mo­ti­va­tion.

“Never Go Back” is based on Lee Child’s 18th Reacher novel. The 2012 film was adapted from a much ear­lier work in the se­ries, so per­haps Reacher’s de­sire to be a dad is cov­ered in the vol­umes in be­tween.

The teenager is the pawn in this story as Reacher and Turner try to un­cover cor­rup­tion high in the mil­i­tary ranks. They find that be­yond a cover-up of the sol­diers’ mur­ders, crooked of­fi­cials may be sup­ply­ing weapons to in­sur­gents in the Mid­dle East. The vil­lain ap­pears to be a white guy in a suit with an Amer­i­can flag pin on his lapel, but he isn’t named and doesn’t speak un­til the film’s third act.

Mean­while, a trench­coated heavy (Pa­trick Heusinger) is tail­ing Reacher, Turner and the teen. He’s the cat­a­lyst for the chases and fight scenes, which di­rec­tor Ed­ward Zwick cuts to­gether so quickly, their grace is hard to ap­pre­ci­ate.

Still, there are some breath­tak­ing ac­tion se­quences, in­clud­ing a chase through New Or­leans’ French Quar­ter that sees Reacher scal­ing wrought-iron bal­conies above a bustling Hal­loween pa­rade on Bour­bon Street.

Smul­ders han­dles her share of the ac­tion and holds her own with Cruise, which is great to see. Turner may be fe­male, but her char­ac­ter’s depth and strength matches Reacher’s. With Smul­ders and Yarosh on cam­era al­most as much as Cruise, “Never Go Back” dou­bles the num­ber of key women from the 2012film. If only the story was as good.

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