$68 million. If you’ve ever wondered what $68 million looks like, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is not going to be much help. That’s what the reported budget was, and I defy you tell me how it made it onto the screen. Unless Producer Tom Cruise conducted a tense negotiation with Star Tom Cruise and when they were finished there was a loose handful of small denomination bills left to pay for the rest of the cast, the stunts and whatever else they thought they might be doing. The writing had already been paid for; Lee Child may not be Shakespeare, but you can pretty much film any of his books straight from the page.
When I watched the first attempt to sell Tom as Reacher, I called it something on the lines of a perfectly presentable couple of episodes of a TV cop show no-one was ever going to get excited about. Almost incredibly, Never Go Back comes in well under that bar. There’s a couple of fights, a car chase with less thrills and spills than the one with OJ in it, and a Hummer gets blown up in an Afghanistan flashback (the most technically impressive thing about that was they somehow found a piece of Louisiana which could double for the sandbox). And running. Just so much running. It’s hard to believe two experienced military investigators don’t realise how conspicuous it is to be the only people running in a crowded street. I have watched bad TV pilots with more action in them. In fact, I have just watched a ten minute ad for Beemers with more action in it. There’s not a lot of excitement (1) on offer, and there isn’t much in the line of fun characterisation and dialogue to make up for it. Nor is there much of a plot; it’s pretty much Reacher beats his way through yet another cookie-cutter conspiracy by sinister corporate forces to smuggle heroin out of a war zone. Why is the US forever going to war near places which ship wagon loads of heroin?
In an effort to bulk it up to two whole episodes of TV, there’s a B plot where Reacher may or may not have a long lost daughter, who provides a handy hazard moppet cum streetwise accomplice for him as he bashes his way to the answer. If anything it just ups the sense that this is a double length pilot for the Reacher and Turner show, where two mismatched military cops will fight crime while trying to look after the troubled teen neither of them wanted, neither of knows what to do with and neither can help bonding with.
Tom Cruise continues to nail the basic attitude of Reacher, 24/7 asshole, without being continuously convincing as anyone’s idea of a man mountain. When Ed Zwick remembers to keep the camera low and shoot him against landscape, Cruise briefly towers on the screen. Then one of the other cast walks into shot and the illusion is shattered. When I wasn’t wondering what I was going to have for dinner, I found myself imagining what might have happened if they’d given Peter Jackson $68 million and let him use weird sets and forced perspective to make Cruise tower over hobbits like Cobie Smulders (who is exactly the same height if you believe the people who say Tom Cruise ISN’T five foot seven but a whole five foot eight). Maybe that can be Jack Reacher: The Hard Way, which is totally the title they need to use to describe the way they’re doing things.
(1) all the sadder that the best line is Reacher grating out “I’m going to break your arms, your legs and your neck. What you hear in my voice is excitement.” to his gloating nemesis asking “Is that fear I hear?"