Tom Clancy’s covert-ops hero Jack Ryan is well on his way to becoming James Bond, at least in terms of how many actors have taken a shot at the role. First came Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October; then Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck (the Timothy Dalton of Ryans) took their turns. Now, Chris Pine tries his hand at a reboot more than 10 years after the last Jack Ryan film, with mixed but not entirely unpleasant results.
Pine, who has been so good and so instrumental in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek series as Captain Kirk, turns out to be a decent Ryan, and despite its silly title, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit makes up for many of its missteps with a speedy pace that doesn’t allow you to examine it too closely. Director Kenneth Branagh, who also co-stars, whips through the character’s creation story at breakneck speed: A student at the London School of Economics, young Jack is inspired to join the Marines after 9/11. Injured in a helicopter crash, he struggles through rehab, learns to walk again, and falls in love with his physical therapist Cathy (Keira Knightley). Hanging around is an older guy who has the look of a clandestine agent (Kevin Costner) who eventually recruits Jack to work for the CIA on the financial side. You can serve your country with a desk job, he tells Jack. Just don’t tell your girlfriend.
All of this takes place in about 45 seconds, or seems to, thank God. The rest of the movie — which is not based on any book by Clancy, who died last year, but on the characters he created — focuses on Jack’s attempts to foil a plot by Viktor Cherevin (Branagh), a shifty, dangerous financier in Moscow who may be plotting acts of terrorism (economic and otherwise) against the United States in retaliation for not supporting vital Russian oil interests.
Yes, I know. You almost nodded off during the last part of that sentence. Branagh knows how to invest the ridiculous with a sort of grandeur — Exhibit A: the surprisingly fun Thor — but Shadow Recruit is more straightforward in nature, so he can’t get too fancy. Thus the threat of financial mayhem is dangled, but we’re quickly assured there is likely to be an event explosive in nature, too.
The downside of the movie’s fast pace is that Jack solves problems in mere moments with extraordinary intuition, and sometimes his revelations feel like cheating. Other elements feel a bit off, too.
A plan to steal Viktor’s office ID card and break into his computer goes far too easily, and some of the action sequences have a generic feel; you won’t be able to distinguish them from car chases in a dozen other movies. And someone really needs to remind this budding government star that even though the first Cold War is over, there’s still a strong chance a Moscow hotel room is bugged (particularly if you’ve already had someone try to kill you in it). When Cathy arrives there unexpectedly in the middle of Jack’s mission and demands the truth about what he’s doing there, he finally admits, “I’m in the CIA.” Maybe in the next installment — it’s inevitable, isn’t it? — he’ll be sharper. With any luck, so will the movie.
Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh.
Director: Kenneth Branagh.
Screenwriters: Adam Cozad, David Koepp. Based on the characters created by Tom Clancy.
Producers: David Barron, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mace Neufeld, Mark Vahradian.
A Paramount release. Running time: 105 minutes. Sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language. Playing at: area theaters.