By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist October 18, 2012 at 1:00PM
Last Christmas, Tom Cruise proved, after a difficult few years, that he's still got it with "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," a surprisingly thrilling actioner that proved to be, by some distance, the best film of the franchise so far, which further paid off by becoming the biggest movie of the season.
Can Cruise and backers Paramount pull off the same trick this Christmas? They must certainly hope they have a chance, after moving this year's Cruise actioner "Jack Reacher," the first of a hopeful franchise, from February 2013 into the already crammed holiday season. After taking a look at some of the other big fall movies -- "Lincoln," "Flight," "Skyfall," "Wreck-It Ralph," "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables" and "This Is 40" -- we've got Drew Taylor and Oliver Lyttelton squaring off on the pros and cons of "Jack Reacher" below. Let us know if you're excited about it in the comments section below.
In over a dozen crackerjack thrillers (all of them best-sellers) by British author Lee Child, Jack Reacher, a nearly seven-foot-tall, tough-as-nails ex-military policeman, has investigated murder and mayhem across this great country of ours. Whether combating terrorists in New York City or meth dealers on the great plains, Reacher, armed with only his travel toothbrush, ATM card, and the clothes on his back, manages to right wrongs wherever he stops to hang his hat. He's a do-gooder drifter and, despite being a total brute, an irresistible hero, more morally nebulous and identifiably wounded than the detectives that typically anchor this kind of book series. Oh, and now he's coming to the big screen!
"Jack Reacher," based off the novel "One Shot" (the ninth novel), is the first big-screen adventure for Reacher, and controversial, for sure, to even the most dedicated "Reacher Creatures." The reason is the casting, of course. Tom Cruise, who could get carried around in a tea cup if he so desired, was cast as the hulking Reacher, which is certainly a strange choice, at least initially. It's hard to imagine anyone physically embodying Reacher as he is on the page, save for maybe Liam Neeson, but he's got enough action franchises on his plate at the moment. And Cruise is able to capture that aura of an American loner that is essential to the Reacher essence. We have to remember, also, that the last time this kind of literary adaptation uproar sprung up it also involved Cruise, when he was cast as the villainous Lestat in the Neil Jordan adaptation of Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire." And, of course, it turned out that he was absolutely amazing in that role.
Other reasons we should be quiet and get excited for "Jack Reacher":
1) The supporting cast. In addition to Cruise-as-Jack Reacher, we also get Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, Rosamund Pike, and, as the bad guy, Werner Herzog. Please file under: Amazing.
2) Christopher McQuarrie. At one point, Christopher McQuarrie, coming off the success of "The Usual Suspects," was the hottest screenwriter around. He's been working steadily since then, mostly doing punch-up work on things like "X-Men" and "The Tourist." Around the time Cruise made "Valkyrie," though, McQuarrie came under his good graces, and has become the star's go-to writer (replacing Robert Towne, who is probably too old to still be Cruise's monkey). Cruise had McQuarrie re-write "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol," and at the time of Tony Scott's tragic death, McQuarrie was busy with "Top Gun 2." Here, Cruise also gave McQuarrie the first chance to direct something since 2000's underrated oddball meta-western "The Way of the Gun." Any fans of 'Way of the Gun' know that McQuarrie is perfect for the Reacher material – hardboiled pulp at its most easily enjoyable. A perfect melding of talent and material, as only Cruise could have engineered.
3) "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol." Remember around this time last year when we were all like, "Gee, another 'Mission: Impossible'? Great." And then it turned out to be one of the best action movies of the year (and one of the best movies of last year, period)? Yeah. I remember that too. And I think "Jack Reacher" could easily achieve the same distinction. There's a reason Paramount is releasing it on almost the exact same date, one year later. They have big plans for "Jack Reacher" – the movie and the character.
4) The trailer is pretty cool. What? It is!
This December, a new franchise will be born, from an unlikely, nearly homeless hero. And it's going to kick our collective ass. Mark my words - Drew Taylor
Unlike some who have their knives out for "Jack Reacher," I have nothing against Tom Cruise, who I generally find compelling even when the film's less than great. And I certainly like the supporting cast even more -- Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Michael Raymond-James from "Terriers" and, of course, Mr. Herzog. Furthermore, I've heard nothing but great things about Lee Child's source novels, which sound right up my pulpy-crime street.
And yet I just can't get my pulse up over "Jack Reacher" (the first entry in the Year of Jack, preceding "Jack: The Giant Killer" and "Jack Ryan"). The idea of a noir-tinged, stripped-down thriller isn't a bad one, but Paramount's marketing campaign has alternated between trying to make you think that it's either "Drive" or a new "Mission: Impossible" movie. And the result is that it comes across as the pilot for some new FX series -- a spin-off of "Justified," perhaps. Except that "Justified" has quirk, and a setting that's as much a central character as anything else, and the greatness of Elmore Leonard as inspiration. "Jack Reacher" just looks sort of generic.
For all its credentials, there's nothing here that doesn't make it appear to be some kind of Mark Wahlberg movie released in March 2006. A drab tax-break location, a visual approach that looks to be a bit bland, and a faintly miscast Cruise looking like he's phoning it in all have me glazing over a bit. Even Herzog's appearance in the latest trailer disappointed a little -- he seems to be underplaying it pretty heavily, which is hardly what I was after.
I enjoyed "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," but let's be honest, it's a pretty thin script (remember that entirely anonymous villain?) elevated by top-notch direction by Brad Bird. And on the basis of "The Way of the Gun" twelve years ago, Christopher McQuarrie is no Brad Bird. Indeed, I've not really been a fan of the few writing credits that McQuarrie's racked up in the intervening time. I hope he'll surprise here. And lowered expectations can only help. But on the basis of what's been seen so far, those expectations are very, very low indeed. - Oliver Lyttelton