The original “Jack Reacher” wasn’t exactly great. The dialogue was hammy and seemed like it would be more at home in a 1950s noir flick. The characters straddled the line between boring and just plain unlikable, and the story was extremely run-of-the-mill. Director Christopher McQuarrie, who would go on to work with star Tom Cruise again on last year’s excellent “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” managed to breathe some life into the script, however, so it wasn’t a complete loss. But its sequel, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” isn’t lucky enough to have someone like McQuarrie to salvage the script. In the hands of director Edward Zwick (“The Last Samurai”), “Never Go Back” becomes a film that is less corny than the original but also exponentially more generic.
The opening act of “Never Go Back” is actually relatively promising. Cruise and Cobie Smulders (“The Avengers”) have believable chemistry, and the evolution of their relationship is shown through a montage of their meetings by phone so that when she is arrested, it’s all the more understandable that Reacher would single-mindedly believe her innocence. Cruise and Smulders are the film’s greatest assets, as it turns out, because just about everything after those initial scenes is boring and forgettable, and it begins with the introduction of Reacher’s new teen sidekick.
It’s not that young sidekicks are inherently bad. They aren’t, and they can be used to add further dimensions to their mentors. Unfortunately, these characters are by and large vehicles driven by angst and poor decision making, whose sole purpose is to act as damsels in distress. Such is the case with Samantha Dayton, played by Danika Yarosh (“Heroes Reborn”), who almost gets herself and everyone around her killed on at least three occasions and adds nothing to the overall plot besides an overwrought subplot in which Reacher, action hero extraordinaire, learns the value of family.
As nearly worthless as the Samantha character is, though, the villains of “Never Go Back” somehow manage to be worse. “Forgettable” barely sums up these men who hardly have names, let alone motivations and personalities. Robert Knepper (“Prison Break”) plays General Harkness, the main antagonist, who is on screen for all of two minutes, never giving Knepper the chance to make the unnerving impression that is his well-earned bread and butter. Reacher and company are also pursued by a mercenary known only as the Hunter, who is about as mundane as his title implies and not worth the time it would take to criticize.
Still, “Never Go Back” could have been saved had Zwick crafted an interesting action set piece or two. Again, the original “Jack Reacher” was nothing special, but the car chase between Reacher and the authorities was well-shot and legitimately exciting, hinting at the talent which McQuarrie possessed. Zwick opts to go a different direction, in that all but two of the film’s spectacularly few “action” scenes are made up entirely of rapidly edited shots of pretty people running while being accompanied by generic chase music.
And “generic” seems to be the word that best sums up “Never Go Back.” Its generic plot is only unpredictable because the viewer is so bored that they won’t bother to try to figure out where it’s going. Its generic characters come and go at the will of the screenwriter, creating many a moment of “Oh, right, that character exists.” Its generic action only serves to highlight what a tedious slog the whole thing is, instead of injecting any amount of excitement into the affair. Its generic villains barely feature at all and could be exchanged for the villains of almost any other action movie with no difference made to the plot. “Never Go Back” is not awful, but only because it’s too generic and mediocre in everything but its lead performances to be truly awful. Instead, it settles for feeling more like a feature length “NCIS” episode than anything else.