Jack Reacher is the protagonist in a bestselling series of novels penned by Lee Child. Reacher, a vet of the Iraq war, is a retired military investigator now living on a pension. For reasons that remain unclear in this Christopher McQuarrie film adaptation, Reacher lives like a ghost. He stays off the grid with no bank account, credit cards, driver's license, Internet footprint or permanent address. He travels between destinations by Greyhound bus, his only purpose being the pursuit of criminal cases he finds to be interesting.
Though Child imagined Reacher as a 6-foot-5 dynamo, Cruise's physicality is sufficiently convincing to cover the actor's 11-inch height deficit. Cruise fares well in scenes centered around physical confrontations and car chases, but as depicted here, Reacher is otherwise sullen and dull. His eidetic memory and analytical turn of mind are no substitute for his missing personality.
Reacher's most defining trait is a commitment to doing the right thing, but being in no one's employ, once Reacher has gathered the evidence to prove his suspicions, he alerts authorities and is free to walk away - at least in theory.
The screenplay, adapted from "One Shot," the ninth in a series of 17 novels, finds Reacher investigating James Barr (Joseph Sikora), a veteran sniper of the Iraq war who was discharged, rather than prosecuted, for making unauthorized kills. A military investigator at the time, Reacher vowed that should Barr commit another crime, Reacher would nail him.
As the film opens, we see a sniper kill five people while traversing an outdoor path bordering a strip of shops and offices. Although the film shows us that the shooter is not Barr, he is nevertheless framed for the killings.
Enter Reacher. After examining the evidence Reacher concludes that Barr isn't the shooter. Despite his desire to see Barr imprisoned, Reacher can't turn away from the case and therefore agrees to work with Barr's attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), to uncover the truth.
Pike, whose intelligence bleeds into that of the characters she portrays, is given little to do beyond listening to Reacher's theories of the crime.
Late in the film, Robert Duvall shows up as the owner of a target range who teams up with Reacher to battle an evil conspiracy.
Chortling and knowing, Duvall ably projects a squinty-eyed glare, while spitting out anecdotes that humanize this by-the-numbers thriller.
Further color is provided by Werner Herzog, cast as a villainous puppeteer whose long years in a Soviet Gulag cost him eight fingers and the sight in one eye.
It's true that a multi-film franchise could be born from this mildly entertaining story, but if so, we are likely to regret that it will belong to Tom Cruise - whose work has become all too predictable.