‘Jack Ryan’ pleas­ing but pre­dictable

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

It’s a good time for a re­boot of the Jack Ryan fran­chise. Spies are hot prop­er­ties in the pop­u­lar mind, from the mer­cu­rial Car­rie Mathi­son on “Home­land,” to the fam­ily of Cold War era Soviet sleep­ers in “The Amer­i­cans.”

Di­rec­tor Ken­neth Branagh is faith­ful to the spirit of the Tom Clancy universe. This isn’t a “Bourne”-style re­boot, re­fash­ion­ing char­ac­ters as dis­af­fected and para­noid out­casts of a cor­rupt in­tel­li­gence bu­reau­cracy. In “Jack Ryan: Shadow Re­cruit,” ev­ery­one is as they ap­pear. The in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives are brave pa­tri­ots, and the vil­lains (here a shad­owy ca­bal of Rus­sian oli­garchs) are sin­is­ter, and heavy breathers to boot.

On the pos­i­tive side, the lack of too many plot com­pli­ca­tions and re­ver­sals makes “Jack Ryan: Shadow Re­cruit” pleas­ingly spare for a spy thriller. But the story plays out pre­dictably, with­out much of the un­cer­tainty that makes well done es­pi­onage fic­tion such a plea­sure. Mr. Branagh, bet­ter known for his Shakespeare pro­duc­tions than his big bud­get ac­tion movies, ex­cels in a few tense tick­ing-clock set pieces. But the screen­play by Adam Cozad and David Koepp re­peat­edly strains against its own logic to keep Ryan at the center of the ac­tion.

Though the role has been fa­mously played by Alec Bald­win, Har­ri­son Ford, and Ben Af­fleck, there’s no iconic “Jack Ryan” to loom over this re­make. Ac­tor Chris Pine, who played Cap­tain Kirk in the two re­cent “Star Trek” movies, isn’t ex­actly shy about reimag­in­ing old char­ac­ters. Here, he plays Ryan as a strait­laced, pa­tri­otic eco­nom­ics stu­dent who en­lists in the Marines af­ter watch­ing the Sept. 11 at­tacks from Lon­don. Af­ter a near-crip­pling in­jury in a he­li­copter crash over Afghanistan, his learns to walk again un­der the tute­lage of med stu­dent Cathy Muller (Keira Knight­ley). His aca­demic work has caught the at­ten­tion of CIA op­er­a­tive Thomas Harper (Kevin Cost­ner), who re­cruits him into the agency as an an­a­lyst.

Flash for­ward about 10 years, and Ryan is work­ing as a com­pli­ance of­fi­cer in a Wall Street bank, as cover for his work col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion on the shad­owy world of ter­ror­ist fi­nanc­ing. He stum­bles onto a Rus­sian plan to break the U.S. econ­omy with a one-two punch of fi­nan­cial and phys­i­cal as­sault, and is sent over­seas as an op­er­a­tional agent to thwart the at­tack.

In ad­di­tion to di­rect­ing, Mr. Branagh plays Rus­sian oli­garch Vik­tor Cherevin, the clos­est the movie gets to of­fer­ing a three-di­men­sional char­ac­ter. Cherevin is vain and in­tox­i­cated by his coun­try’s new wealth, but also hu­mil­i­ated by its di­min­ish­ing rel­e­vance in world af­fairs. Mr. Branagh’s per­for­mance, ca­reen­ing be­tween sadism and sor­row, is a lit­tle too el­e­vated for the movie, and Mr. Pine es­pe­cially seems a bit out of his depth at times.

But the real rea­son why “Jack Ryan: Shadow Re­cruit” won’t wind up as a peren­nial cable TV fa­vorite, like “The Hunt for Red Oc­to­ber,” is that the script doesn’t waste time with the de­tails of es­pi­onage. At one point, Ryan is on the phone with a cen­tral of­fice han­dler and, break­ing with all pro­to­col, asks for the ac­tual ad­dress of a ren­dezvous be­cause he can’t re­mem­ber the code. His han­dler speaks sooth­ingly too him as if to a child, gives him the ad­dress and tells him to re­mem­ber his trade­craft. That was some­thing Clancy tried to take se­ri­ously in his books, and it’s a shame it gets short shrift here.



Chris Pine (left) and Kevin Cost­ner star in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Re­cruit,” a thriller about a covert CIA an­a­lyst who un­cov­ers a Rus­sian plot to crash the U.S. econ­omy.

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