Film: "Jack Reacher"; Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo and Jai Courtney; Director: Christopher McQuarrie; Rating: **1/2
Though the timing of the release of "Jack Reacher" is a bit skewed this Christmas season, this mystery thriller is surprisingly a decent whodunit with a moral code.
The film begins with an awesome video game-inspired opening sequence -- a mysterious lone gunman fires six shots that leave five dead in front of PNC Park in Pittsburgh in broad daylight. The crime scene is strewn with compelling evidence, all pointing to a former army sniper, James Barr with a blemished mental health record. But the suspect emphatically denies all charges, thickening the plot by scribbling a loaded directive at the arresting officers: "Get Jack Reacher."
"Who is Jack Reacher?" -- This question gets asked a lot in the film, adapted by Christopher McQuarrie from Lee Child's novel, "One Shot'.
Reacher (Tom Cruise) is already a man of myth, and not just in stature -- a military cop who is the best-of-the-best at everything he does. He is a canny street-fighter, a top-class marksman, and a brilliant investigator with a photographic memory. He can tell the time without looking at a watch and he can drive a car in reverse at Formula One speed.
Before anyone has time to react, Reacher arrives on the scene with the messianic swagger of an all-star quarterback. It is an open-and-shut case. But Barr named him for a reason. So, after making a deal with the defence lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), Reacher begins to dig deeper.
It is obvious that the alleged sniper, James Barr, is innocent and being framed because the film shows us the true killer at the very start. But, it is fun watching Reacher go through each step and shape this all out on his own. It is a challenge for the protagonist to figure out who is trustworthy, and who is working to frame Barr. The investigation zips by.
"Jack Reacher" does sport some terrific villains. It is great to witness director Werner Herzog's menacing, mannered performance as the Zek, a former Siberian prisoner turned bogeyman with a gammy eye and a taste for his own fingers. The Zek only gets two scenes but they are both awesome, as Herzog glowers in the shadows and at one point, demands that a henchman bite off his own fingers. "You gotta be kidding," the henchman says, but the Zek is serious.
But aside from the bad guys and one intentionally funny fight between Tom Cruise and two goons in a bathroom, the pleasures are few and far between here.
For additional conflict in the plot, McQuarrie ensures that the alleged killer gets comatose, Helen is pitted against her father District Attorney Rodin and scenes oscillate between romance and professionalism between Reacher and Helen.
On the casting front, Werner Herzog as a cloudy-eyed, finger-lacking villain is barely in the movie, but registers diabolically. David Oyelowo as Emerson, Richard Jenkins as the DA, Rosamund Pike and Robert Duvall - all give strong support.
Action-wise, McQuarrie's direction is functional rather than memorable. He keeps the wheels turning though and delivers action set pieces with elan. There is one good car chase, a predictable but fair-enough ending, and a lot of soundtrack.
The screenplay is verbose and exposition-heavy in the first half before offering a degree of satisfaction towards the end. The conspiracy at the root of it all turns out to be rather humdrum and the plot delivers no surprising revelations. There are moments of good, dry humour. The film drags in the beginning and in the end, but the rest of the time, it is engaging enough.