Once a pretty boy with an earnest screen presence, Tom Cruise has reached a certain age. The face isn’t so fresh as once it was, the torso has matured, like hung beef, and now has the texture of leather. Though he’s done his damndest; staying trim, brushing his flesh with Katie Holmes’ milk; Cruise is slowing rotting before our eyes, and it’s around this time that the twin imperatives of vanity and commercial reality importune a male star who’s rode their sexuality to industrial dominance, to tweak their on screen persona and trick an audience into ignoring its doubts. Nothing is more cinematic and the tragedy is, it often works.
With Jack Reacher, Cruise, 50, might have had in mind the mid-career recalibration of Clint Eastwood. When the fem-punching, Republican loon-a-tune was Tom’s age, he was playing the rough and ready lothario in country and western prize fightin’ nonsense like Every Which Way But Loose: topless tussling by day, romancing Sandra Locke in a honky-tonk by night. The audience didn’t care that Sandra was 14 years Clint’s junior because he was in shape and could trade on the effortless charisma that had endeared audiences to a frontier killer and liberal baiting fascist. Cruise, one assumes, didn’t want to don a cowboy hat and pair up with an ape, so instead would have noted that the middle aged Eastwood was also between Dirty Harry sequels during this problematic period.
Reacher is the Cruiser’s attempt at creating a comparable right wing icon: a statute shirking bottom-liner, who can cut it with women that were newborns when he made his debut. He looks the part, he’s nimble enough but something’s missing. No, it’s not an orangutan, it’s personality: Clint’s special stuff.
Tom’s military investigator, a maverick who won’t play by the rules and refuses to buy his own car, has that seen-it-all mentality beloved of antiheroes but crudely insists on flaunting it in a series of willy waving exchanges. Clint might have snarled, done a double take or curled up that mouth but Cruise’s man, never knowingly plagued by self-doubt, explains everything with God’s eye assuredness; a quality that those of us not lucky enough to live in movieland call smug. The hope is that such confidence may be undercut by brutal reversals or knowing humour – the humble quip; but neither author Lee Childs or screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie craft gibes. Reacher’s po-face may the mirror of his literary counterpart but it makes him a hard man to care about.
McQuarrie’s focus, perhaps a necessity given the leading man’s likely inclination to direct himself, is pulp dialogue and Rosamund Pike’s cleavage. As your eyes sink into that plentiful bosom, you realise the tension that exists in a universe born from an affection for hardboiled thrillers but centred on a character who loathes misogyny.
You’re reminded of that public information film about date rape in which a teenage boy bangs on the window as he watches himself assault his girlfriend. If Reacher could see himself, would he call his world enlightened? He lives in a story where his introduction takes place while a woman in soft focus puts her underwear back on; where he breaks the ice with a girl he later tries to protect by labelling her a slut and making a joke about menstruation; where he objectifies himself in front of Pike’s next generation eyes – a character that might be professional and intelligent but is nevertheless afflicted with wide eyed syndrome, as though she was consistently ogling a porn star’s phallus, and ultimate demoted to damsel in distress status. We called Woody Allen an old pervert when he started to stock his movies with young actresses that found him irresistible; does Cruise get a pass for having better genes? You decide.
Still despite its old fashioned bent, lack of guile and charismatic deficiency, Jack Reacher is a moderately successful thriller. McQuarrie may not have the means to alchemise all the elements but he tries to invest the movie with atmosphere and occasionally succeeds thanks to some hard-edged setpieces and a moody score by Joe Kraemer. Lines like “I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot”, presumably the victim’s boot, might have worked better if delivered by someone more animate and quick witted than Cruise, but there’s the rub: you have an engaging mystery that should bite harder, characters that should work better and a leading man that should make more impact. What’s missing? Chutzpah … and perhaps that orangutan.