Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) will use a gun if the situation calls for it, but he prefers to use his fists. His punches in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” don’t so much land as explode like cannon shots, decimating car windows, cement walls and the faces of his enemies: soldiers turned mercenaries with grown-out buzz cuts. Reacher is a former military himself, an ex-major in the Military Police Corps.
Now he roams the land solving crimes, enacting justice, and calling the current commanding officer of the 110th, Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), to commiserate about the job. When Susan’s arrested for espionage, Jack goes into full Reacher mode — he’s a bit like a very violent, near psychic MacGyver — to spring Susan from the clink and uncover a shady military arms deal.
2012’s “Jack Reacher” was the first big screen adaptation of the best-selling Lee Child novels featuring the character, but with Cruise in the leading role, the character is simply a vehicle for Cruise’s star strengths — his efficient physicality, laconic, twitchy charm, and dogged pursuit of righteousness. As Reacher, he’s anti-establishment, anti-authority and he absolutely hates being followed.
In “Never Go Back,” Reacher’s solitary loner life on the road is tested when it’s revealed that a paternity suit has been filed against him for child support. The child is now a sassy, sarcastic, eye-rolling teenage girl, Samantha (Danika Yarosh), and DNA test or not, Reacher’s obligated to protect her when the bad guys target her to get to him. Going on the run from murderous ex-military mercenaries, they make quite the trio.
Fear not for the cardiovascular health of the Reacher clan. They traverse most distances with the upright, arm-pumping sprints that are Cruise’s signature move. Smulders paces him step for step, and rains hell on bad guys with sticks and garden hoses and any other available implement. Reacher might be wondering whether or not he’s fathered a daughter, but it’s clear that Susan is the true heir apparent to the Reacher legacy.
Directed by Edward Zwick, “Never Go Back” is the kind of action film where the simpler moral story sits on top of the larger, twistier, but essentially unimportant plot. There are New Orleans junkies, and security contractors and opium smuggling, and you’ll often question the plausibility of the story and the laws of physics here, but none of that really matters. What matters is the opening and softening of Reacher’s heart.
Zwick’s direction is clean, clear, workmanlike action filmmaking, but the auteur is Cruise himself. The character is an ideal vessel for Cruise’s gifts as a movie star. Cruise is one of the most consistent stars of our era — he doesn’t seem to age — and in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” Cruise proves that in his career, the more things change, the more he stays the same.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Holt McCallany, Aldis Hodge.
Director: Edward Zwick.
Screenwriters: Edward Zwick, Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz.
A Paramount Pictures release. Running time: 118 minutes. Vulgar language, bloody violence, action, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.