Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh
Director: Ed Zwick
Running Time: 115 mins
Synopsis: Lone wolf investigator Jack Reacher (Cruise) dives into action when a friend Major Turner (Smulders) is arrested for espionage. Suspecting something foul he finds himself accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Plus he has to deal with the possibility he may be a father.
A Tom Cruise film is never dull. Or more accurately, HE is never dull. Cruise, regardless of what you think of his odd religious views, is always watchable. Intense, layered and when he runs, boy is it thrilling. Why do you think every director he’s worked with in the last few years somehow manages to work a scene of him running into the plot? Here we get not one, not two, but well over 5 scenes of Tom just running. Mind you one of those is for a taxi! However Never Go Back, an adaptation of Lee Child’s hugely successful and seemingly never ending book series (this is book 18), manages to be just that, dull!
This is not the fault of Cruise. As per usual he gives his all, with his insurmountable levels of energy both in front of and behind the camera a testament to his commitment. Although facing a hefty amount of backlash when he was originally cast, Cruise is far from the 6ft tall blond haired beast described in the books, he silenced all the doubters in the first film with a relatively quiet violent performance. He may not have had the height but damn could he pack a punch. Once more he brings a grit and a somewhat dickish slant to Jack, he can be genuinely unlikable at times, but always watchable. This time though he may have to soften his act when it seems he could be the father of Danika Yarosh’s Sam. Introduced into the plot rather haphazardly Yarosh does give Sam some much needed spice and her interplay with Cruise is warm and believable. Moments of him starting to care for her are finely judged, if a little obvious. It is sold more on a slight quiver on Cruise’s brow rather than through the simplistic script.
Cobie Smulders more than capably goes toe to toe with Cruise. Kicking butt, and brutally punching interrogations out of perps, she continues the headstrong tough but with hidden vulnerabilities sort of role that she so well plays in the MCU. Cruise rather nicely steps back and lets her steer the show, quite like what he did with Rebecca Ferguson in M:I 5, (he’s always been a generous co-star) even though the script does make Smulders more prone to getting hit than her more manly co-star.
The performances certainly do not let the side down so what, you ask, does? Well for one, the plot is a bust. A leaden tale of arms dealing and wrongful accused, it has a mystery but not one you ever feel invested in. The villains are lacklustre. Patrick Heusinger plays a man similar to Reacher but on more of the sadistic side of the scale, but he basically boils down to a disgruntled grunt. A late appearance from Robert Knepper promises much but goes absolutely nowhere. I mean it was going to be hard to top the sheer insanity of Werner Herzog in the first film, but at least give these villains something to work with.
Ed Zwick needs to take some of the brunt of this too. A decent director, he led Tom Cruise to an emotional finale in The Last Samurai, but recently he has drifted aimlessly around Hollywood with nothing to show. The action here is just far too pedestrian. Yes, we aren’t dealing with the mega sized and mega costly stunts of the M:I series, but Chris McQuarrie gave the first Jack Reacher a grounded muscular drive. Captured notably in that films central car chase. A scene of loud engines, old school stuntwork, and tension. This go around we get a few half decent punch ups, some driving but with no one chasing, and a dockside shootout that just about comes to life. It is almost salvaged by a distinctive finale chase through a New Orleans parade, culminating in a one on one fight of such crushing violence that I’m stunned this received a 12A, but by then it’s too late.
As events round up the film does manage to stir the heart a tad, but does feel too easy an end so as to send our hero off on his lonely journey once more. I would be happy to see more from Reacher, his punch first ask later ideology is refreshingly analogue, but next go around let’s just hope the mission is worthy of his (and our) time.
Verdict: Never Go Back is not bad, it’s competently made, well acted and holds your attention, but it never does anything big enough to be worthy of your attention. Ed Zwick has a lot to answer for, he’s managed to make Tom Cruise running (one of cinemas greatest joys), dull!