Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
A sheriff in a small town pulls up to a diner and finds several bloodied and battered men sprawled across the grass out front. Entering the diner, he learns their assailant Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is sitting calmly at the counter. The lawman cuffs him, only for Reacher to predict that the sheriff is the one who will soon be in handcuffs. Sure enough, his prophecy instantly comes true.
And so unfolds the trailer-ready intro to 2016’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the mostly agreeable sequel to 2012’s mostly agreeable actioner Jack Reacher, both adapted from the books of Lee Child. The first film was based on the ninth Reacher novel One Shot, while the sequel is based on the eighteenth, with Tom Cruise reprising the title role of a former military officer and homeless drifter who travels the country like Dr. Richard Kimble helping those in need.
After ensuring the corrupt sheriff will soon be put away (he was part of a human trafficking ring which never gets mentioned again), Reacher stays in touch with the Army officer who helped him with the bust, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). The two keep up a flirtatious phone relationship as Reacher slowly makes his way to Washington DC in primo vagabond style, hitchhiking and bumming rides the entire way.
But when he finally gets to DC to meet Major Turner, he learns she’s just been arrested for leaking national security secrets. Reacher wants to help, but is told that Turner doesn’t want him involved at all. It seems she’s taken a look at Reacher’s file and gotten the impression that he’s bad news. Among Jack’s negatives is that a random woman filed a paternity suit against the Army claiming Reacher is the father of her teenage daughter Samantha (Danika Yarosh), even though this is the first Reacher has heard of her.
Reacher stakes out Samantha, unaware he himself is being spied on by a shadowy figure known only as the Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), who later murders Turner’s attorney and frames Reacher for the crime. Reacher allows himself to be brought in for questioning, but after spotting some imposing thugs coming for him, he quickly escapes from custody. And luckily, the Army maintains coed prison facilities as well as pretty lax security, because he’s able to break Major Turner out of the same jail at the same time.
The two are now on the run, not only from military police but from mercenaries out to kill them. Reacher wants answers, and Turner explains she was investigating an incident where two of her men were killed in Afghanistan, and she believes a Blackwater-like government contractor named ParaSource is responsible.
Reacher uncovers some of the surveillance that ParaSource’s men have been carrying out, which reveals that they, too, know about the secret daughter that Reacher supposedly has, and they’re planning to abduct her as a way to get to Reacher.
He and Turner waste no time tracking down Samantha, whose legal guardians have just been murdered by the Hunter. They attempt to hide her away at some sort of hoity-toity prep school, an oddball plan that falls apart 20 minutes later when Reacher spots Samantha on her phone potentially leading the bad guys right to them. Reacher trashes her phone and tries to think of another place to run to when he gets a tip about a potential witness to the killings: a former Army specialist now living in New Orleans.
Reacher, Turner, and Samantha all board a plane, and of course, a couple of the bad guys find their way onto the same plane, but Jack is able to take them both out mid-flight without causing much of a stir. Once they arrive in New Orleans and fight their way through various waves of mid-level thugs, they track down their witness, who explains the murders in Afghanistan (carried out by the Hunter himself) were meant to cover up illegal activities being conducted by ParaSource.
At first, Jack thinks they’ve been selling weapons to insurgents, but it eventually turns out, to the surprise of no one in the audience, that they’re actually smuggling pure opium out of Afghanistan. After a big shootout with ParaSource, Reacher busts one of their drug shipments, clearing both Turner’s name as well as his own.
And that seals the fate of ParaSource and all of its employees, but it seems the Hunter didn’t get the intraoffice memo and is still after Reacher. He’s tracked down Samantha, who for no reason was left alone and unprotected at a hotel while Reacher and Turner were out taking down the evil contractors. This leads to a rather perfunctory action sequence as Reacher and Turner run through a carnival happening in the New Orleans streets (which turns out to be a… Halloween parade? Is that a thing these days in NOLA?) to rescue Samantha.
They save her and dispatch the villain, but then it’s revealed Samantha is not really Jack’s daughter after all, meaning the whole “like father like daughter” running gag that lasted half the movie was ultimately for naught. Regardless, thanks to Turner’s connections, Samantha is able to attend that hoity-toity boarding school anyway, and she and Reacher have a tender farewell scene.
There’s not really a huge difference in quality between the first movie and the sequel; if you enjoyed one, you’ll probably enjoy the other. Those who appreciated Reacher operating as a lone wolf in the first film might be disappointed to find him saddled with a pseudo-family in this one, but it works fine for the most part; As an Action Movie Kid, Yarosh’s Samantha doesn’t fall into the trap of being either annoyingly helpless or annoyingly precocious, and Smulders’ Turner is also mostly capable and only gets irritating in one scene where 2016-era #MeToo/#TimesUp sensibility rears its head: At one point, Reacher thinks she should stay behind to protect the younger girl, so Turner angrily declares, “Because I’m a woman? I should be the babysitter?”—and the scene only gets more painful from there.
Like the first movie, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a study in adequacy. The action scenes are perfectly coherent, the plot moves along efficiently enough, and we’re able to follow all the many twists and turns without too much mental exertion. What the film does fail to give us is a clearly defined character in Jack Reacher, beyond Tom Cruise just being Tom Cruise. Or rather, Cruise realizing his late-in-life dream to be Stallone and/or Schwarzenegger circa 1986.
It’s not as if Cruise looks too old to play the part of an action movie one-man-army—though I did chuckle at a police APB in the movie that describes the 54-year-old Cruise’s character as a man “in his forties”—but you have to wonder why he’s expending his considerable star power on material this unremarkable. Given that Jack Reacher is the protagonist of a series of twenty best-selling novels, there must be something interesting or unique or memorable about the character, but I’ll be damned if I can figure it out from either of these movies.
But that may change soon; Jack Reacher is being developed as an Amazon TV series, and no more movies will be produced. Cruise won’t be starring in the series, which is likely a blessing for fans of the books (who expected an actor closer in stature to the hulking 6’5 Reacher of the novels), as well as for Cruise himself, who can hopefully find more worthwhile projects to spend whatever remaining years he has left to be a believable action star.