Yes, it sounds petty, mean even, but it’s painful to see Lee Childs’s six-foot-five-inch ex-military vigilante Jack Reacher embodied by the diminutive Tom Cruise in the mystery-thriller Jack Reacher. In Childs’s novels (which are both addictive and disgustingly brutal), Reacher’s personality is inseparable from his size. He strives to be rootless, to disappear into the landscape, but his hugeness makes it impossible. It’s a hugeness of spirit, too. The guy can’t watch an injustice without jumping in and breaking the bad guys’ bones. He’s an injustice magnet, of course — city after city, best seller after best seller.
Cruise enters Jack Reacher on his tippy-toes, preening, his chest swollen. Women in the movie do double takes around this gorgeous hunk of man. But the more he puffs himself up, the punier he seems. His wide-eyed smirk evokes Mark Harmon, a scaled-for-TV actor. Cruise underplayed beautifully in the last Mission: Impossible picture, but Jack Reacher looks like a vanity license plate on a car that only an asshole would drive.
The fair Rosamund Pike overacts as the D.A.’s daughter who’s determined to defend an all but certainly guilty Iraq War vet accused of shooting random people in a park. But you can’t blame her for trying to get a rhythm going. Director Christopher McQuarrie lays on the Chandleresque banter, but Cruise should never, ever play a man who has to look like he’s thinking. Those wheels just don’t turn. Alexia Fast is funny and then poignant as a working-class patsy, and every scene with Werner Herzog as the disfigured, Siberia-cold criminal mastermind “the Zec” is a howl. But the context makes it difficult to laugh, even bad-naturedly. It’s not the filmmakers’ fault that the opening sequence is especially horrible after the Newtown massacre, but the whole movie is like an NRA wet dream, with Robert Duvall as a crusty gun-range owner who pitches in to shoot bad guys. Jack Reacher already feels as if it belongs to another era.