It’s business as usual for the crusading action hero who doesn’t need a cape or fitting underwear worn on the outside to prove his prowess. Edward Zwick’s sequel to Jack Reacher (2012) opens with the aftermath of a Tom Cruise spanking. Cruise’s Reacher, a former military police officer who is now a drifter, has single-handedly blown off the lid on a trafficking ring, which brings him in contact with Army Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). Romance seems to be on the cards as the ex-Army veteran and the woman on the inside burn up the phone lines.
Reacher smells trouble when Susan is accused of espionage after two soldiers under her supervision die in Iraq. High-level corruption in the arms supply business seems to be the problem, and shady contractor General Harkness (Robert Knepper) and his deadly enforcer, known only as “The Hunter” (Patrick Heusinger), start erasing the evidence. Complicating matters is Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who might be Reacher’s daughter from a sexual encounter he does not remember.
As Reacher, Susan and Samantha flee for their lives, followed by The Hunter, a foreseeable cat-and-mouse game ensues. Cruise’s late-career inability to generate sparks with his leading women is sorely in evidence in his brusque exchanges with Susan. In trying to suggest that Reacher and Susan are equally matched, the movie version of novelist Lee Child’s creation kills any frisson that might have existed between the characters.
Reacher fares better with Samantha, a spunky adolescent who keeps her wits about her and challenges Reacher to excavate the emotions buried under the wrinkles and facial bruises. Cruise looks a bit exhausted playing an iteration of the same character in every other film, but he is satisfyingly clinical in the action sequences and handles the occasionally sharp banter with customary efficiency. Smulders matches Cruise’s frozen calm, while Danika Yarosh and Patrick Heusinger plunge into their roles with enthusiasm.
Ice and warmth even each other out. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back trundles along on the comfort of knowing that America, and Hollywood, is safe as long as Tom Cruise is around. For Cruise fans, the movie is a dress rehearsal for the next Mission: Impossible installment (expected in 2018), while the rest can expect a timepasser with some bone-crunching action and chase sequences and a villain who more than earns his pay cheque.