Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh. Directed by Edward Zwick. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
Four years ago, Jack Reacher, based on one of the novels in a series by Lee Child, was only a modest hit, so the sequel Jack Reacher: Never Go Back needs to add something to entice audiences to return. Thus, taciturn drifter Reacher (Tom Cruise) gets a spunky teenage sidekick, the bane of action heroes everywhere. Based on Child’s 2013 novel of the same name, Never Go Back finds Reacher determined to clear the name of his longtime military contact. Reacher, himself a former military policeman, shows up for a meeting with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), only to discover that she’s been arrested and accused of espionage.
Naturally, he punches and kicks a bunch of people while breaking her out of prison, and then they’re on the run, but not before they pick up Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a 15-year-old girl who may or may not be Reacher’s long-lost daughter, and is thus a target for the same shadowy conspiracy that is after Reacher and Turner. That shadowy conspiracy turns out to be vague and underwhelming, led by a scheming corporate weasel (Robert Knepper) who shows up for barely a few minutes of screen time. Reacher’s main adversary is really one of the boss’ nameless henchmen (Patrick Heusinger), but his motives are even less distinctive.
Instead, the focus is on Reacher bonding with Turner and especially with the extremely annoying Samantha, a clichéd rebellious teen who comes to respect Reacher in the end, while prying open a small part of his cold heart. When Cruise was first cast as Reacher, some fans of Child’s book series were upset that he didn’t fit their image of the hulking bruiser on the page. But Never Go Back is so generic that it’s hard to imagine anything about it having come from a clear artistic vision, let alone a series of 20-plus novels with a devoted fan base. It could be the pilot for a second-rate basic-cable series from the ’90s, teaming the hard-nosed ex-military enforcer with his adorably snarky daughter.
The previous Reacher movie wasn’t anything special, either, but at least writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (who went on to do much better work with Cruise on the Mission: Impossible series) staged some memorably brutal action sequences. Never Go Back director and co-writer Edward Zwick (who previously directed Cruise in The Last Samurai) is not nearly as adept with action, and the movie’s fight scenes are uniformly mediocre. The opening features the aftermath of one of Reacher’s legendary beat-downs, but skips over the action itself. That’s indicative of the movie as a whole, which has the framework of a thriller without providing any actual thrills.