Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dept. of No Surprise: Tough-Guy Edition

Regular readers will recall that Father Anonymous is a great fan of the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child.  (So are his wife, his mother and his father.)  Reacher is one of the great American tough-guy heroes, a comically tough ex-MP who travels the country by Greyhound, righting wrongs and moving on.  Lee Child is a Brit, but so was Raymond Chandler, to whom the books owe at least a small debt of gratitude.

Child is a great thriller writer, one of the best.  He's not a great novelist, especially -- Tolstoy need not look to his laurels.  Judged on prose style and narrative canniness, Child is better than Ian Fleming, but falls well short of Chandler.  His dialogue is good, his ploys are repetitive but often clever.  But where Lee Child excels -- where he is unsurpassed -- is at actually thrilling people.  Nobody makes our adrenaline flow like Reacher.  Hell, real danger doesn't make our adrenaline flow like Reacher

Those same regular readers will recall that, before Tom Cruise appeared as the cinematic Reacher, we expressed some doubts about how that was going to go.  Reacher is big and deadpan; Cruise is small and cocky.  He's a fine actor, but this was really a part for Nick Nolte circa 1985.

Despite our reservations, we averred that we would probably see the film.  And last night, finding ourselves between Netflix series to binge-watch, we did.

Don't make this mistake.

The Reacher movie is ... not good.

It is bad in a million different ways, some large and some small.  It seems as though the female lead, Rosamund Pike, is trying to channel a little bit of classic noir dame, maybe some early Bacall.  It's not a bad idea, but it fails; her eyes seem to pop out in every scene, and roll around in their sockets.  The real villain, one of Child's more interesting creations, is not given enough screen time.

There are some good things about the movie.  Child's original dialogue and set pieces, when they can be preserved, are still clever.  Robert Duvall hams it up magnificently as a grizzled gunnery sergeant.  There is one sequence, in which Reacher is attacked by the Three Stooges, that is some of the best comic relief we have seen in a lifetime of watching thrillers.

Cruise is, as we exppected, the wrong actor for the part.  he tries hard, but his interpretation of jack Reacher just doesn't ring true.  Reacher is cocky in his own way -- he's smarter and stronger than virtually anybody he meets, and this shapes his world.  But Reacher's version of cockiness is laconic, almost lazy.  Think of vintage Robert Mitchum.  Cruise, in contrast, is energetic, feisty, visibly cerebral.  Think of vintage Tom Cruise.

Still, he's not that bad.  A world that can imagine Roger Moore as James Bond should have no trouble with Tom Cruise as Reacher.

The problems with this movie are not the actors; they are its script and its direction.  Together, they achieve dreary drabness of the picture, devoid of suspense and heavy with routine.

The most grindingly awful example -- SPOILER ALERT! -- comes about 3/4 through.  The damsel is in distress; Reacher has launched a rescue operation which is also intended to punish the villains.  He finds himself unarmed, taking on a team of professional killers with assault rifles. Needless to say, he kills most of them easily.  But then comes the most dangerous of the crew, a man Reacher especially hates.  Reacher sneaks up, puts a captured gun to the bad guy's ear and then says "Drop it."

At this point, Mother A. started screaming.  The mission isn't complete yet!  Reacher hasn't rescued the girl.  But, still, he disarms his enemy, throws down his own gun, and decides to fight hand-to-hand.  This is colossally stupid and out of character; of course Reacher can kill the guy bare-handed, but he can't control what happens to hostage in the minute it takes him to do so.  Yes, he's got a mean streak, but he's also a professional:  he focuses on the mission.

Worse yet is the fight itself.  Oh, it's choreographed well-enough.  The two heavies slug it out in a nighttime rainstorm, mud and testosterone splashing everywhere.  It should have been exciting, but it felt lifeless, dull, even familiar.

"It feels like I've seen this already," said Father A.  And then the light bulb went off over his cartoony head, and he exclaimed:  "BECAUSE I HAVE."

Yup.  This was, basically, the fight from the climax of Lethal Weapon.  Good guy throws down his gun and, in defiance of any logic whatsoever, settles score with bad guy the manly way.  Hand to hand.  In the mud.

it was stupid then, but at least it was exciting.  This time it is just dumb.  And at least Mel Gibson's Riggs was supposed to be borderline psychotic.  Reacher is eccentric but, at least in theory, coldly rational about combat.

Anyway, this movie stinks.  Not in a cool, campy way that will make it more fun in 25 years.  It stinks in a dull, uninspired way that will sink a potentially great franchise right out of dry dock.

1 comment:

mark said...

I heard that your uncle likes some childish books,too.