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Cruise goes heavy on punches, light on stunts in 'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back'

Posted October 24

“JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” — 3 stars — Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Robert Knepper, Danica Yarosh; PG-13 (sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements); in general release

If “Mission: Impossible” is Tom Cruise’s high-tech, stunt-heavy spy franchise, the “Jack Reacher” movies seem to be his answer to Jason Bourne. “Never Go Back,” the follow-up to 2012’s “Jack Reacher,” sets aside the showy set pieces and reduces Cruise to wits and brute force.

This time around, the mission for the ex-Army wrecking machine is redemption. When one of Reacher’s inside contacts, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), is arrested on charges of espionage, Reacher makes inquiries into her situation, and finds himself in the same crosshairs.

Reacher suspects that a shadow group inside the government is setting Turner up, so he breaks the major out of military prison, then they set off on a quest to uncover a black market arms dealer they believe is pulling all the bad guy strings. But time is tight, as they are being pursued by a covert operative known as the Hunter (Patrick Heusinger) and an Army officer named Espin (Aldis Hodge).

There aren’t a lot of twists and turns, but “Never Go Back” isn’t exactly a straight line of a plot. Along the way, Reacher discovers that he’s been named in a paternity suit, and might be the father to a troubled teenage girl named Samantha (Danika Yarosh). When the Hunter adds Samantha to his to-kill list, Reacher and Turner decide to take her along for the ride.

With Samantha in tow, Reacher and Turner almost create a kind of makeshift family on the run, and as they fight their way through Washington, D.C., and later New Orleans, “Never Go Back” begins to feel more like one of Liam Neeson’s “Taken” movies than anything else.

The addition of Samantha may feel a little extraneous, but it makes Reacher’s motivation feel a little more logical, since his ties to Turner are pretty tenuous. “Never Go Back” has plenty of action sequences, and Cruise is never the kind to leave you feeling like he’s mailing in a role, but this production is clearly a step down from Cruise’s tentpole work.

Cruise puts in his reps, and in some shots looks like he’s barely aged since the mid-1980s. But Smulders is no slouch, adding the same tough charisma she’s displayed as Agent Maria Hill in the Avengers movies.

It’s usually the great bad guys that elevate these kinds of films, and that may be part of what’s missing with “Never Go Back.” Heusinger is perfectly fine as the assassin machine after Reacher, but like the other special operatives in the Bourne movies, he feels like more of a placeholder than a developed character.

Based on the novel by Lee Child, and directed by Edward Zwick (who also produced Cruise in 2003’s “The Last Samurai”), “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” feels just about right for a late October release. It may not have the shoulders to carry the expectations of a summer blockbuster, but it’s a solid action option as a break from the Halloween frights and based-on-a-true-story dramas that will be filling screens until the holiday season kicks in.

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements; running time: 112 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.

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