Jack Reacher (2012): Tom Cruise, Running and Running

Has anyone noticed that Tom Cruise has become, not by choice, an exclusively action star, producing and appearing in one mediocre picture after another, indicating that his career as a major Hollywood player is in severe decline, if not over.

Cruise’s new crime-action- thriller, “Jack Reacher,” could have been titled, “Run, Tom, Run,” for most of what the hyperkinetic actor, who boasts about performing his own risky stunts, does in this picture is run, and then run some more.

But to what effect?

It’s hard to tell what the range of material that Cruise, who’s now 50, gets at this declining phase of his career, though he may benefit from the fact that there are no action stars of his age bracket; Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger, all in their 60s, are getting too old.

Based on the bestselling book series by author Lee Child, “Jack Reacher” is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, still best known for his Oscar-winning screenplay, “The Usual Suspects,” in 1995, directed by Bryan Singer.

McQuarrie’s disappointingly conventional script is specifically based on “One-Shot,” the ninth in the series of 17 Reacher novels. Reacher is supposed to be smart and witty, but there is no evidence of it on screen.

McQuarries’s work as a director is even more dissatisfying, relying heavily on thematic and visual clichés of the crime-action genre. Moreover, he shows no technical development as a filmmaker, having helmed a decade ago “The Way of the Gun,” an artistic and commercial flop.

The first scene is decent, before the tale deteriorates into a nonsensical plot. On a routine morning in an average town, five people are randomly shot dead while going about their daily lives. Since the evidence points to one man, a sharp-shooting assassin who is ex-military and a trained sniper, he is apprehended and thrown into custody.

Despite interrogation, the prisoner offers up nothing except a cryptic demand he scribbles on a notepad, which is sort of his confession, “”Get Jack Reacher.” But who is this Reacher? Does he really exist?

Alienated from others as well as himself, Jack Reacher turns out to be a former Army, erstwhile military investigator, a solitary, enigmatic man who goes out of his way to avoid the company of others.

But his heart (if not humanity) is still bating, and the news report about the killings compels him to come out of the shadows and share with the authorities what he knows about the aforementioned prisoner. Based on past history, which is both lurid and dubious, Reacher believes they have captured the right man. But have they?

When Reacher arrives, the accused killer is in a coma, due to brutal beating during transfer. As a result, his defense attorney (the gifted Rosamund Pike, wasted here) has plenty of basic questions for Reacher. What is her client’s history with Reacher? Why would he request help from a man who’s convinced of his guilt? Despite doubt and trepidation, she honors her client’s wish and hires Reacher to investigate.

Initially, it appears that the police have effectively and thoroughly examined the crime scene. But Preacher has serious doubts. Self-sufficient and hyper-observant, he begins to pay attention to tiny and specific false notes that might have escaped the authorities. Needless to say, the more Reacher delves into the case, the less clear cut it proves to be.

Following generic conventions to a fault, nothing is what it seems to be and no one is to be trusted; in fact, seemingly reliable friends and family members might actually be foes.
Tough and smart, no detail is too small or irrelevant for Reacher. An inner-directed loner who plays by his own rules, he is not entirely above or beyond justice. Reacher finds himself pitted against an unexpected and astute enemy, one with an enormous predilection for violence and a secret to keep.

To anticipate and outwit his adversaries, protect the innocent, and expose the truly guilty, Reacher is forced to use his best assets, quick wit, cunning and other manipulative strategies.

What elevates ”Jack Reacher” above the routine is the good cast of secondary characters actors, such as Robert Duvall and Richard Jenkins, though they are not given particularly rewarding roles, and the technical production values, courtesy of such pros as cinematographer Caleb Deschanel.