Movie Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
The subtitle of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is like a warning to Hollywood execs not to resurrect franchises that did OK at the box office but hardly gangbusters; that were, as a fan might say to friends the morning after watching it on PPV, “not bad.”
Because this? This sequel to the “not bad”? It’s awful.
That doesn’t happen much with Tom Cruise movies. Say what you will about him—and we have—but he usually doesn’t pick lame projects. Usually.
So much in “Never Go Back” depends upon the sexuality of a star who seems to have little of it onscreen, and whose offscreen sexuality has been the subject of decades of rumors.
As the movie opens, Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is solving cases for Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), then hitchhiking his way to the next town, a classic American drifter-hero in the mold of The Lone Ranger or Kwai Chang Caine. But with each case, and call back to Turner, the flirtation deepens, until he arrives in D.C. ready to take her to dinner and maybe back to her place. Except, darn the luck, she’s been arrested for espionage. It’s cell block as cock block.
(Question: Has Reacher ever seen Maj. Turner or did he just luck out? Did he know, for example, that she wasn’t 54 and dumpy but 34 and so smokin’ hot she should have her own adjective? I’d suggest smuldering, after the actress. You’re welcome.)
His other soupçon of sexuality comes from his classified file. Apparently Reacher is a dad. At least there was a paternity lawsuit a few years back. I assumed this, like the espionage charge against Maj. Turner, was trumped up, since the military never contacted him about it, and because he claims he remembers all the women he’s slept with. (All zero of them?) Even so, he checks out the potential offspring, a bratty 15-year-old named Samantha (Danika Yarosh), and even talks to her outside of a convenience store where she’s been shoplifting. It’s the one time in the movie when Reacher is being followed and doesn’t know he’s being followed. Photos are then taken that will come back to haunt him. Or us.
Because of course Reacher is pulled into the web. He’s accused of murdering Turner’s JAG attorney, which gets him into the same prison as Turner, which allows him to bust her loose. Sadly, when they get more intel, he realizes the bad guys know about Samantha (those photos), and they all have to go on the lam together: the aging drifter-hero, the smuldering Major, and this blonde brat who doesn’t know enough not to use a cellphone or credit card when being tracked by the NSA. Could the movie have worked without her? I don’t know. But with her it was a painful slog. I never cared for the character, the actress, any of it.
There’s a nemesis, of course, another top agent-y guy known only as “The Hunter” (Patrick Huesinger); and while Huesinger is good, the back-and-forth between the two, the taunting on the phone, tries to be McClane/Hans in “Die Hard” and fails. It also tries to be vaguely Batman/Jokerish. Hunter sees himself in Reacher: two hugely effective solo operatives. The movie undercuts this by giving Hunter henchmen: two more guys for Reacher to kill. The odds have to be further stacked against our hero.
The maguffin is Parasource, a private military contractor that’s bleeding money, so it’s smuggling opiates into the U.S. with the help of top military brass. That's right: top military brass. The movie is another gung-ho action flick with a decidedly mixed message if moviegoers ever thought about it for two seconds after the popcorn was gone.
Cruise is beginning to show his age, by the way, which is mine, 54. He still looks good, but he’s got a new puffiness around the eyes and cheeks. He’s also so slight in those skintight outfits that when he was brought into prison by a burly guard, I flashed on tiny Luke being led before the Emperor by Darth Vader. I’d suggest he try for more adult roles but in today’s Hollywood they’re hard to come by. And maybe he doesn’t want them? Maybe he wants to return to his pre-couch-jumping glory days of movie stardom? Seems so. Here’s what he has lined up for the next few years: another “M:I” sequel, a “Top Gun” sequel, and a reboot of “The Mummy.”
In “Never Go Back,” it all ends on the rooftops of New Orleans. Reacher kills The Hunter, learns the daughter isn’t his, and he and Turner don’t have sex. Then he hits the road again—the last hitchhiker in America. Sexless once more.