Jack Reacher, the hero of Jack Reacher (in case you were confused), is a drifter with nothing to lose. We know this because that is exactly what Tom Cruise says he is while yelling at a bad guy on the phone, Taken-style. Reacher is novelist Lee Child’s 6-foot, 5-inch fictional meal ticket beloved by millions who were outraged at the casting of the Lilliputian Cruise. Honestly, Cruise’s well-honed action hero swagger compensates for just about everything, other than a line of dialogue that suggests he’s capable of killing with just one punch. Um, maybe if the victim is a comatose, anorexic hemophiliac.
As depicted in the movie, Reacher is a butch, heterosexual male’s dream version of himself: brilliant to Batman-detective levels, rugged as dollar-store toilet paper and beholden to no one, living off the grid and rambling wherever he wishes. When a suspect in a mass shooting asks for him by name when interrogated by a top cop (David Oyelowo) and the district attorney (Richard Jenkins), Reacher finds himself reluctantly aiding defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), daughter of the DA and pouty-lipped, helpless hottie.
Of course, nothing is as it would seem in this twisty-turny tale that involves a one-fingered, one-eyed villain played by brilliant German director Werner Herzog. But with Sherlockian investigatory work, copious thug punching and the aid of a kindly shooting range owner (Robert Duvall) with septuagenerian sniper skills, the case is broken easier than aforementioned thug noses.
Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie delivers solid entertainment. Well, solid entertainment whenever there isn’t monologuing going on. For some reason, dialogue that is spoken in conversation crackles with wit and fun, and tough guy diatribes sound like they were written by a fifth-grade bully. Although Reacher’s military origins pull him a slight bit away from the prototypical “private dick” in classic noir, the antihero intent remains present as can be. Only instead of a femme fatale, we get a “femme heaving bosom” in Helen, a character so woefully underwritten one has a hard time believing she’d be capable of signing her name, let alone passing the bar exam.
When Jack Reacher works, it is largely because McQuarrie gives in to a formula Cruise knows by heart. Lost in the shuffle of his off-screen shenanigans is the fact that Mr. Cruise is a “grade A,” class-one friggin’ movie star. Not an actor, per se, but a full-fledged iconic figure that hearkens back to a bygone era before “indie movies” and “street cred.” It is entirely possible that this film marks the start of yet another successful franchise. But it is equally likely this is a one-off bit of inconsequential action fluff.
Either way, in a month that sports nothing but Oscar hopefuls, family-targeted entertainment and Russell Crowe singing, Jack Reacher represents a choice for some adult fun. Sure, it’s clichéd, unoriginal, kinda-dumb adult fun, but if you can’t indulge on things that aren’t exactly good for you at holiday time, when can you?
— This review first appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Neb.