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D: Edward Zwick / 118m

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Austin Hébert, Robert Knepper, Madalyn Horcher, Robert Catrini

After helping the US Military apprehend a crooked sheriff – it doesn’t matter why – Jack Reacher (Cruise) begins flirting by telephone with his contact, Major Susan Turner (Smulders). When he arrives back at his old military HQ to meet her for the first time, Reacher finds she’s been arrested on suspicion of treason. It’s all to do with an investigation she was overseeing in Afghanistan, and which involves the murder of two soldiers out there. Reacher is instantly suspicious himself, but when Turner’s attorney winds up murdered, he finds himself framed for the killing, and with only one option going forward: break Turner and himself out of military prison and go on the run while also trying to solve the conspiracy surrounding Turner’s arrest.

While all this is going on, Reacher also learns that he may have a daughter. Her name is Samantha (Yarosh), she’s fifteen years old, and she becomes involved when the mercenary assassin (Heusinger) charged with tracking down Reacher and Turner links her to her possible father. With the guilty party looking like defence contractor, Parasource, the trio travel to New Orleans and try to find the company’s middle man in Afghanistan, Daniel Prudhomme (Hébert). Frightened and in hiding, Prudhomme is eventually found, and what he tells them reveals a puzzling conspiracy involving the illegal smuggling of weaponry owned by Parasource itself, the rewards of which are outweighed by the potential worth of government contracts.

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Jack Reacher (2012) made just enough money (if $218,340,595 can be considered “just enough”) to allow Jack Reacher: Never Go Back to be made. Making this only the second time that Cruise has reprised a character role, the movie again dispenses with any intention of following the sequence of Lee Child’s novels, and plumps for a more recent effort. Given that it provides Reacher with a potential daughter, you can see why Never Go Back was so attractive to the producers, including Cruise himself: let’s show the action man can be a big softie as well (though, actually, not too much of a big softie). But in the end, all this means is that the viewer is subjected to dozens of close ups of Cruise manipulating his facial expressions as if with strings, and a handful of awkward father-daughter moments that are played by rote. You can guess the outcome of this particular “mystery” from a mile away, but the movie goes through the motions with it, and never once makes it seem that Reacher and Samantha could achieve a really meaningful relationship.

This leaves the conspiracy story to lead the rest of the movie, but sadly, the movie never springs to life with it, leaving everything feeling flat and unnecessarily bland. Part of the problem is that you don’t really care what happens to anyone, even Samantha, and the mechanics of the villain’s deadly plot never catch on in the way that the writers and producers and Edward Zwick would like. None of it seems relevant, and all of it is coated with a thin layer of effort. Cruise looks determined, but often it’s difficult to work out if he’s in character or just trying to get through the filming stage. Smulders at least tries to inject some passion into things, but she’s held back by a script that actively ignores her character’s role in the military whenever it can, and at one point sidelines her as a babysitter to Samantha. It all makes the viewer “glad” that sexism can rear its ugly head in a movie, and if it’s supported by Tom Cruise then it’s all the better, and perhaps, even acceptable.

Rating: 5/10 – a sequel that lacks the bite of its predecessor, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back could also be called Jack Reacher: Never Knowingly Exciting; professionally done but a little too generic in its approach and presentation, it’s a movie that never strays out of its comfort zone, not even by accident.

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