There was a time in the '80s when the action movie was king. Hollywood released quippy hero after quippy hero, alone or in pairs, and with few exceptions they always slayed the box office as well as the weird foreign bad guys. It seems that that genre of fun, mindless action has gone the way of the boom box and Rubix Cube. However, leave it to Tom Cruise to resurrect it with a send up to that time with Jack Reacher. It's a stylized, special breed of action that you don't see anymore but there might be a good reason for that.
Prepare yourself because Jack Reacher starts off with a tragic public mass shooting one week to the day of the second worst school shooting in the history of America. I'll be honest that watching that scene is a little raw considering the carnage that happened in real life and the timing couldn't have made the plot of a lone wolf trying to figure out who's to blame for it more uncomfortable. Don't be surprised to see a few of the more sensitive audience members get up and leave during that.
Beyond that, we have an action movie that feels old and familiar yet still fairly fun. The film is based on a book called One Shot which is part of a series about the character Jack Reacher by Lee Child (who has a cameo in the film as well). The books have a loyal following (Cruise included) although I've never heard of them before. The character is classic cliche former military badass who leads a nomadic noble life traveling the country helping people. It's nothing new but still fun to watch.
Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie is far better at the pen than he is the camera. He's responsible for writing The Usual Suspects, which is one of the best Whodunits in history but his direction credits are limited to the clunker The Way of the Gun and that's it. Jack Reacher has a style and I'm not sure if it's intentionally a throwback to the action films of the '80s or if its unintentionally outdated in its execution. I wish I knew his intention in the filmmaking because it determines how I ultimately feel. On one hand you have a film that doesn't exist anymore where the action has no CGI, the punches come hard and the good guy always has a funny comeback. On the other hand you have a hero that doesn't fit in with 2012 and turns into a bit of a yawnfest.
Fundamentally there's nothing wrong with Jack Reacher outside of some misplaced melodrama, stale acting from Cruise's leading lady, Rosamund Pike (An Education, Wrath of the Titans) and downright silly agendas that pop up in laughable monologues about America. But the story is compelling and the action is entertaining, especially a car chase scene that is done without any music and feels as clunky as a real one through the streets of Pittsburgh would be. I just wonder if we've moved past that point of the '80s action and now expect more from our ticket costs. I guess it all depends on your age. Me? I'm caught inbetween the two eras and I'm still not sure if Jack Reacher was as fun as those movies were to me as a kid or dry and dull compared to the A.D.D. world I live in now. Jack Reacher (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C