Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. Lots and lots of action violence, including fist-fights, beatings, shootouts, execution-style killings, car chases, explosions, the discussion of torture, and numerous characters dying. Some cursing and rude insults; a shirtless man and a woman in her bra; the main protagonist may have fathered a child with a prostitute; and discussions about prostitution, drinking, and drug use.
‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ is a sequel that didn’t need to happen and that can’t make a case for itself to exist. The twisty-turny plot is overly complicated and aggressively average.
By Roxana Hadadi
At this point in Tom Cruise’s career as an action star, there are just some things we have to accept: that he’ll run exaggeratedly, that he’ll throw someone through a wall, that he’ll do everything – from spouting laconic quips to beating up scores of bad guys – effortlessly. As Jack Reacher in the sequel “Never Go Back,” this is basically all Cruise does, but the rest of the movie is so generic and boring that even his ultra-preparedness comes off as staid and forgettable.
A sequel to 2012’s “Jack Reacher,” “Never Go Back” has Cruise, you know, going back to the character, who is again swept up in a conspiracy involving the military, of which he was once a part as head of the military police. Since leaving the military, he’s wandered like a nomad, showing up when he’s needed and operating like a sort of infamous vigilante out to administer justice that the bureaucratic government can’t.
In the years since the first film, in which he unraveled a mystery involving a military sniper going on a shooting spree and derailed the plans of a villain played with unexpected glee by legendary director Werner Herzog, Reacher has struck up a friendship with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, of “The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron”), who holds his one-time position. After vaguely flirty phone calls, the two decide to meet, but when Reacher arrives in Washington, D.C., he learns Turner has been arrested and charged with treason after some of her men unexpectedly die in Afghanistan.
Is Turner actually at fault? Reacher certainly doesn’t think so, and he engineers her escape, leading her on the run as they try to figure out who framed her. But the bodies they leave in their wake just garner more attention, and their getaway is complicated by 15-year-old Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a teenager who might be Reacher’s daughter and who joins them on the run. The trio is an odd one – Reacher in a faux-domestic situation is one of the only times we see him rattled – but if Reacher is going to clear Turner’s name and his own, then they need to work together.
“Never Go Back” doesn’t get too creative with its storytelling – the paramilitary mercenary villains here are especially uninteresting, and an assassin nicknamed “The Hunter” is more goofy than threatening – but the action scenes don’t pick up the slack, either. The opening sequence where Reacher beats up a room full of guys while in handcuffs effectively shows his moral compass – they were operating a human trafficking ring! Reacher had to do something! – but future fight scenes are all jump cuts and rapid editing, making them frustrating to watch and even harder to follow.
In all this run-of-the-mill stuff, Smulders is a bright spot, hyper-efficient and self-aware of the sexism in the military and unwilling to take it anymore. But ultimately, saddling her with a romantic storyline with Cruise is a mistake, and feels like the same disposable treatment given to Rosamund Pike’s character in the first “Jack Reacher.” These women are great, but they always have to play second fiddle to Reacher, and when Cruise isn’t doing anything creative with the character, it feels like a waste.
The less said about the third wheel of Samantha, the better; whenever a franchise resorts to adding a plucky kid for narrative interest, it’s a sign of bad things to come. “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” falls into that trap, and it’s one mistake among many.
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