Thursday, 30 January 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Meet Chekhov's Motorcycle

I Frankenstein has reportedly got a 5% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and by the time I got to the end of Jack Ryan, I was wishing I'd watched that instead. 

It's a dumb movie that doesn't even dare to be stupid, because stupidity might have involved entertainment. Yet another franchise wannabe (and only the third time they've tried to get this party started) that thinks it needs to be an origin story for its name character. The last time I saw something with this much origin, at least it was funny. So we see Jack Ryan as an analyst. But before that we have to see how he had to overcome a terrible injury. But before that we have to see how he was a heroic marine who analysed while he was leading troops that adored him. But before that we had to see how he was inspired to become a marine by 9/11. Ah, damn. That's like about twenty minutes of movie for something which was a goddam line of dialog in the doorstep sized books by Tom Clancy. The man who created the character and would happily spend twenty pages writing about how to home-make a pistol silencer never thought that Jack Ryan's teenage helicopter accident rated more than the occasional mention while he got on with the PLOT.

Weirdly, Jack Ryan as a guy sitting around in a bank snooping on his colleagues and ratting out their financials to the CIA almost looks interesting, partly because Chris Pine has such a serious talent at being a smooth-talking dick-bag that he can really sell the character as a slick snake in the grass who's just letting everyone get ahead of him so that he's got a clear line on the backs he's gonna stab. Sadly, the CIA is so tragically understaffed that they wind up with no alternative but to send him to Moscow to sniff out the truth behind some financial scamp-ery only Jack Ryan is smart enough to understand.

He's met on arrival in Moscow by a lovely enormous Ugandan goon, who takes him to the best hotel in town and then tries to shoot him in the head while he takes in the view from the balcony. Fight-age ensues, with the lovely suite winding up looking like six metal bands have been staying in it for the past eight years, and the lovely Ugandan gets all drowned, partly because he has a skull made out of something which can withstand smashing right through a bidet and so there's nothing for it but to hold him in six inches of water for a while. Jack Ryan is understandably upset by this turn of events, which fall short of his expectations of high class hotels and Ugandan goons in general. 

That, of course, is not the problem. You're the villain of the movie. You send your goon to collect the man who's come to investigate you, and you allow as how it would be nice if he fetched up all dead. So the cunning plan hatched to give fruit to this aim is to pick him up at the airport, leaving behind your business card with the airport police who have video of you doing it. Then you take him to the fanciest hotel in Moscow, where he's been checked in, on your villainous boss's account, in the swankiest suite they've got. And then, when he's standing in the middle of that drinking it all in, you shoot him in the head, getting blood all over the place. The only thing missing is tattooing the body with "Cherevin woz here" and leaving a gloating video on continuous loop on the suite's TV. 

Not that this is quite the problem I first thought it would be, because the various super villains hanging round Moscow have access to resources the rest of us can only dream of. Jack phones his CIA handlers and they have the room sanitised within three hours, good as new, smashed tiles matched and everything. Since we know the CIA  in Moscow is almost comically understaffed, there's plainly an outsourcing agency made of Polish plumbers on call for anyone with these problems, so presumably they'd have been getting  a call from the villains if everything had gone according to the plan.

Jack now flexes his mighty mental muscles against Cherevin himself. As played by the director, Kenneth Branagh, which really does give home court advantage to the bad guys, doesn't it? Watching Branagh's scenes with, well, everyone, is like watching Albert Einstein teach chimps algebra. It's not that everyone else is being effortlessly outclassed; it's that they don't even seem to know it's happening. The one big exception is a chunk in the middle when Branagh is one to one with Keira Knightley; just having him in the room seems to have reminded her that she has more to her than the world's most breathtaking jawline. If they could have played the rest of the movie at that level….

Cherevin has a plan to destroy the USA by causing a run on the dollar, which somehow will work better if it happens at the same time as terrorist incident. This would be alarmingly stupid in any movie; it's ADVANCED stupid in a movie which took the time to open with the attack on the World Trade Centre, an atrocity which had almost no impact on the value of the dollar despite happening at the heart of the US financial district during business hours. About the only thing I can say in favour of this plot is that we finally have something which is actively dumber than the plot of Salt, and I didn't think that was going to happen in my lifetime.

Jack Ryan, of course, saves the day. It involves a motorbike chase, punch ups, a bomb that can't be defused in time, a comical idea of how explosions work, and a protracted scene where Jack just analyses things almost at random until magically he's figured out who the sleeper cell in the USA have to be just in time to chase them through New York on a convenient motorbike which we saw in the first twenty minutes and should have known we hadn't seen the last of. 

Through it all,the two great constants are that the only good scenes have Branagh in them, and that Chris Pine is troublingly good at playing a testosterone addled cretin. It's hard to pick out a truly stand-out moment of dickery, but my provisional favourite is Jack Ryan's approach to rescuing Keira Knightley while she's sitting in a moving vehicle and he knows she's got a light bulb stuck in her mouth. Cherevin's explained all this to Jack, including just how horribly Keira is going to fare if for any reason there's a jolt to her jaw that would cause the bulb to break. So Jack jumps on the moving car and wales on it with an iron bar, causing it to crash into about three other vehicles and bending it badly enough that Cherevin is trapped in the wreckage. Either Jack Ryan knows he's got an unlimited supply of miracles on tap at all times, or he's just the most reckless dickhead in the world.

No comments: