|Tom Cruise plays an ex-military cop out to prove the innocence of a fellow Iraq war veteran in "Jack Reacher"
MANILA, Philippines -- If British author Lee Childs didn't write Jack Reacher as a 6-foot-5, hulking man of few words, then there would be no debate as to whether Tom Cruise is fit to play Hollywood's latest thinking action hero since Jason Bourne.
Despite his height, Cruise has repeatedly proven his mettle as an action figure, most recently in his highly profitable "Mission Impossible" film series. In his latest movie, "Jack Reacher," based on "One Shot," the ninth book in Childs's series, Cruise even comes across as a more disillusioned, let's-get-ready-to-rumble version of his character in "A Few Good Men."
And since many Filipinos are probably not aware of Childs and his crime thrillers, moviegoers here would not find it hard to accept Cruise as a former military cop, with exceptional marksmanship and martial arts skills, fighting for what he believes is right. Debate finished.
In the movie, a suspected sniper, a former veteran of the Iraq war, tells investigators to look for this mysterious, bemedalled military man who went "off the grid" years ago. Reacher sees the news on TV and shows up in Pittsburgh and becomes an investigator for the defense.
Moviegoers already know that the cops have the wrong guy since, in what is probably the movie's best -- and most disturbing -- sequence, the real sniper is shown setting up at a parking lot and shooting five people at waterfront park, seemingly at random, using the sniper's point of view. The movie was released just right after the most recent school shooting incident in the U.S. and this sequence touches on a raw nerve.
It is up to Reacher to unravel what really happened and catch the real bad guys.
Cruise actually delivers, toning down -- just slightly -- his trademark cockiness beneath the character's weary facade, such that the author Childs was quoted as saying, "With Tom you'll get 100% of Reacher with 90% of the height." This is not Cruise's best work by a long shot -- I was expecting him to bring the kind of moral ambiguity he showed in the terrific "Collateral" -- but he also isn't merely coasting on his charisma.
The fight scenes have a certain grittiness, and director Christopher McQuarrie even staged a funny scene involving bumbling thugs in a crack house bathroom (think "Home Alone") that was intense nonetheless.
But it is the film itself that fails to measure up. McQuarrie, who wrote the mind-boggling "The Usual Suspects," ultimately delivers an almost old-school suspense that looks decidedly low-budget and made for TV. The usual elements of a standard action film are there: a heart-stopping car chase with a terrific escape by Reacher, a finale shoot-out at a deserted construction site and a thrilling mano-a-mano showdown between Reacher and the bad guy in a pouring rain. It's just that "Jack Reacher" doesn't reach far enough in giving audiences something they haven't seen before.
If the intention of "Jack Reacher" is to kick-start a new film franchise for Cruise, then it is way off target. It lacks the globe-trotting ambition of "Mission Impossible" or the intricate plotting of the "Bourne" or the high-octane implausibility of "Taken" that moviegoers find irresistably intriguing.
They get a decent time at the cinema but really they should have just waited for the DVD.
Come to think of it, maybe they were indeed wrong to cast Cruise as Jack Reacher. The Rock or any of the guys at WWE would suit this material fine. Remember "Walking Tall"?