I was looking forward to this film as the subheading to my life as a mum is Never Go Back, usually after my kids have done something considered unspeakable by polite society in a delightful local teashop involving a homemade scone and a milk jug. And I was only slightly disappointed.
Edward Zwick’s film is not going to win a single Oscar (not even for costumes, as he wears a grubby off-white tee the whole time and she’s in her military uniform and a mom bra). But while it’s a total cheesefest, a lot of it is also a blast: whether he’s sitting in a diner about to be arrested but of course he isn’t; or thumbing a lift on the highway, like a human version of The Littlest Hobo.
So, the plot! What I could work out, anyway (it’s fair to say that I understood for about the first hour what was happening then got totally lost and had to go by Cruise and Smulders’s facial expressions as to whether a surprise was a Good Surprise or as Bad Surprise). Ex-Major Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is heading to Virginia to see Current-Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who he’s been flirting with over the phone for ages. He’s taking her out to dinner at last, but when he gets to her office he’s told she has been arrested for espionage, which is a new take on “I’m washing my hair”. It’s not long before her lawyer is dead, the first of many, many deaths. Pulled in by the military police and accused of murdering the attorney, Reacher is incarcerated in a military prison but manages to escape and save Turner at the same time.
They then collect Samantha, a 15 year old girl who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter, and the three of them go on the run. It turns out that two of Turner’s team have been shot dead in Iraq, investigating the theft of decommissioned weapons, the deaths supposedly as a result of Turner’s alleged spying.
There’s a lot of driving and running around, first away from, then towards the killers from a Shadowy Military Unit, with Samantha there seemingly to steal credit cards so they can catch flights and stuff (kids are great for that kind of thing. I keep my 7 year old around purely so he can take off the parental controls when I want to watch a slightly saucy movie).
There’s a bit of arguing over whether Jack or Susan should go out looking for bad guys and who should stay back and look after Samantha. But the usual traditional gender role split doesn’t really happen, with Reacher becoming more parental towards Samantha than Turner does, which makes a change – I am rather tired of female kick-ass protagonists finding their maternal side thanks to a small child or a neglected kitten.
And Reacher and Turner seem evenly matched, with Susan doing a lot of the driving (it’s amazing how seldom in real life you see women at the wheel when there’s a man in the car, even if in his absence she’s the one calmly negotiating tiny country roads in the dark in a massive 4×4 with three bickering kids and a bouncy labrador in the back). I must admit that I wanted Reacher, Turner and Samantha to stay put in the hotel suite and bond as a family, but then I still haven’t got over the deaths of Newt and Corporal Hicks 25 years ago at the beginning of Alien 3, so until those two and Ripley are somehow reunited as a family unit in Film World, I am going to keep looking for replacement families in all the movies I go and see.
As usual people do unbelievably silly things to move the plot along. When Jack is incarcerated in a cell with his new lawyer, who doesn’t believe in his innocence, he pretends to feel faint and asks her to go and get him a sandwich. Which she does, leaving her handbag behind so he can take out her wallet with her ID/key card and her car keys. (A mum would have had about 10 boxes of raisins in her handbag for small children so there would be no need for her to leave the cell at all. This is why businesses should employ more mums – we come equipped for anything.) Later Samantha is found to have a trackable mobile phone in her possession, so they simply chuck it out of the car where it is found by one of their pursuers shortly afterwards.
I saw Inferno this week and frankly Jack Reacher is considerably better (I realise this is damning with faint praise, but still). There are similarities, mainly running about a lot – but it just shows that a bit of spark, and co-stars with some chemistry, and just a few nods to some semblance of diversity, can make a traditional superstar thriller vehicle quite entertaining for a couple of hours. Yes Jack Reacher is daft but it doesn’t seem lazily made. It can also laugh at itself – I loved Reacher running for a bus, and missing it (ah, the dodgy knees of middle age, Tom).
We never find out if Turner and Reacher had that dinner and then she finally took her military-issue mom bra off. Though I like to think that yes they did, though they probably had a big argument afterwards, which she would have won, and then driven off in his car which would explain him hitching into the night, like the Littlest Hobo:
“There’s a voice, that keeps on calling me. Down the road, is where I’ll always be.
Every stop I make, I’ll make a new friend. Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again.
Maybe tomorrow, I’ll wanna settle down, Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.”