Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
Author Tom Clancy’s favorite hero, Jack Ryan, hasn’t been well served by the movies. Alec Baldwin originated the role in 1990’s The Hunt for Red October, and was ideally cast, but was unable to continue with the franchise for reasons that still seem murky even today. Harrison Ford took over the role for Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), bringing too much conventional tough-guy baggage to a character originally conceived as an egghead analyst. Then came Ben Affleck in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears—the less said, the better, perhaps, now that Affleck has dug his way out of the hole he then inhabited. Another decade, another reboot, and why not hand it to the actor who successfully resuscitated James T. Kirk?
Prognosis: shaky. On the one hand, Chris Pine does a creditable job of making Ryan seem somewhat green again; even when he’s bashing baddies’ heads into bathroom fixtures, he seems squeamish about it. On the other hand, director Kenneth Branagh does Pine no favors by placing him opposite Kevin Costner, who radiates old-school charisma as Ryan’s scowling CIA mentor. (Again, the young Alec Baldwin had the best of both worlds.) Costner makes it look easy, while Pine, with his puppy-dog eagerness, always seems to be trying a little too hard. He does manage to distinguish Ryan from Kirk’s brash hothead, but at the expense of coming across like a second banana in his own movie.
Shadow Recruit’s complicated yet largely disposable plot involves an evil, lascivious Russian (Branagh himself, doing some delectable overacting) with a plan to simultaneously destroy and conquer Wall Street. This scenario calls to mind J.K. Simmons’ perplexed CIA honcho in the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading, who kept asking, “The Russians?” If Clancy’s geopolitical worldview now seems badly dated, though, there’s still some fun to be had with globe-trotting adventures, and Branagh, improbably, has proven himself a solid action director, investing this effort with some of the same high-spirited goofiness he brought to Thor. He doesn’t know how to make the hero’s imperiled girlfriend (played here by Keira Knightley) remotely interesting—but, then, who does? Reboot that tired concept and you’d really have something.