The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 28, 2012

Benji Tunnell: Cruise’s acting, not stature, ruins ‘Reacher’

JOPLIN, Mo. — Quite an uproar was heard when it was announced that Tom Cruise would be playing Jack Reacher in the adaptation of Lee Child’s “One Shot.”

In the universe of Child’s books (one with which I am unfamiliar), Jack Reacher is apparently 6-foot-5, has a 50-inch chest and is more than 210 pounds of chiseled muscle. Tom Cruise is well known for being a diminutive actor, perhaps more suited for the recent release of “The Hobbit” than for playing a hulking mass of muscle.

But through Cruise’s diligent adherence to Scientology tenets, as well as large contributions to attain the proper levels that would allow him the clarity to play the character, the little Scientology gremlins cast their magic spell, shrinking the character of Jack Reacher to approximately 4-foot-9, thus enabling Cruise to become viable in the role, and once again foiling the evil alien leader Xenu in his attempts to destroy the diminutive.

I kid at the expense of Cruise’s very grounded belief system. In fact, he was cast as Reacher not for his size or bulk, but for his quickly fading star power and his ability to still sell tickets overseas. And in watching “Jack Reacher,” this careful consideration can be seen throughout the film.

“Reacher” follows Jack Reacher as he begins investigating a seemingly senseless mass killing in Pittsburgh, Penn. (the opening sequence, in which the killer targets a small child, would have been in poor taste a month ago. Now, it is an uncomfortable reminder of recent events). James Barr (Joseph Sikora), a former Army sniper, is arrested for the crime, and he asks for Reacher to be contacted.

Reacher knows Barr only from an Army investigation after Barr snapped and killed four other men. The crime was quickly forgotten when it was found out that the men had been participating in mass rapes, a black eye the Army wanted to avoid. Reacher is intent on making sure that Barr faces justice this time, but when he is enlisted by the defense attorney (Rosamund Pike) to investigate the crime, he finds that there is more to the story than initially thought, and he begins to unravel a greater conspiracy.

Those that were concerned with Cruise’s casting were right, in a way. He is a weak link in the film, though not for initial reasons thought.

It is easy to tell that Reacher is supposed to come across as a quiet, extremely dangerous man. Cruise is unable to pull that off. His line delivery lacks intimidation, offering instead a cool smirkiness that makes him less likeable than smarmy. In addition, the movie tries to create sexual tension between Cruise and Pike, but the two have less chemistry than my daughter’s kid’s science set.

Given that I have no ties to the source material, his physical appearance didn’t bother me. It was the lack of investment in the character itself that drew me out of the film. Cruise relies on his movie star bag of tricks, leaning on good looks and cool to flesh out the man. But nowhere in the mix does he add fear.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie does neither Cruise nor Child any favors with his script and direction. McQuarrie won an Oscar for his “The Usual Suspects” screenplay, but it seems he’s forgotten all about originality, instead leaning on the Hollywood standards of bland patter, forced action scenes and inconsistent characterizations.

A movie like this should be driven as much by its action as by the story, and here it fails in both instances. At one point, Reacher encounters two bumbling thugs who, as they attempt to bash him with a bat and tire iron, engage in enough ludicrous “Three Stooges”-esque slapstick as to make Inspector Clouseau blush. It was an extraordinarily stupid scene that completely took the viewer out of the film.

In another scene, after a pretty impressive car chase scene, Reacher has half of the Pittsburgh Police Department on his tail. When he simply steps out of his car and blends in with the crowd at a bus stop, those around him, rather than being fearful or concerned that a dangerous criminal might have just joined them, instead help to hide him as the cops descend, guns drawn, on his empty vehicle.

Then, he simply gets on a bus and leaves the scene, even though the police know that there is a dangerous wanted man in the area and surely would have stopped the bus from leaving. It stretches belief beyond the breaking point.

Finally, when Reacher must go to face down the bad guys, not only does he go unarmed, but he calls a guy that he has met once before and has no ties to, and that guy shows up to a deadly shootout to help defend him. And when he finds a weapon and comes face to face with the real killer, he throws down his gun to face the man in unarmed combat.

Now, some might argue that he was showing some class in not shooting an unarmed man, but a scene later in the movie will quickly negate that thinking. There are many more examples of the movie obliterating credibility, a weakness that permeates the film.

What McQuarrie and Cruise were hoping for was a fast-paced, fun action movie sold on the charisma of its leading man. What they got instead was a film that suffers from weak structure and weak execution, one in which the talents of the director and star are not reflected onscreen. Fans of Child’s books were right to be concerned with Cruise’s casting, but if Cruise gets his way, the character will become a franchise and he’ll be bringing Reacher back to the screen many more times.

Perhaps Xenu really did win.

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