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Jack Reacher

Tom Cruise reaches for the vanity mirror.

DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER MCQUARRIE

A good hour into Jack Reacher, Rosamund Pike’s demure lawyer asks a preening Tom Cruise to please put his shirt back on. Her gesture is meant as a backhanded compliment—a serious businesswoman’s effort to put away the distraction of her companion’s physique so she can get back to work. But it reads like an overconfident dare to the audience, a bet that just like his much younger co-star, we’ll also be unable to turn our eyes from the 50-year-old actor’s garishly toned abs.

Some bet. That isn’t the first time Christopher McQuarrie’s dud of a potboiler goes out of its way to fawn over its star and producer, but it is a kind of tipping point. Compelling as he can be, Cruise is badly miscast as the (unfortunately named) titular character from British novelist Lee Child’s series of thrillers. Child’s Reacher is a wandering ex-military cop summoned to help with the defence of a wrongfully accused mass shooter. That might not seem too much of a stretch for the star of A Few Good Men, but Child’s protagonist is also a tall and deadly bruiser, the sort of lug Daniel Craig has popularized in his three shots at James Bond.

To say that Cruise is an unconvincing brute isn’t to dig at his diminutive stature, but to point out how poorly conceived the project is, from script to screen. Where Craig’s Bond films have had the sense to account for the new star’s twist on the established physical presence of a beloved character, McQuarrie’s adaptation carries over Child’s banal tough-guy dialogue wholesale, to mixed results. That approach is decent enough when Cruise is only called upon to deliver his trademark intense stare, but it’s disastrous in the previously mentioned moment of botched eroticism, or in the endless procession of scenes where characters hype the imposing presence of our fearless lead, a crummy investigator who always seems to be waiting to catch a bus. McQuarrie stages a solid car chase—in homage to Bullitt—toward the end, but it’s too little too late in a thriller that surrenders all its thrills at its star’s altar.

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