Film Review: Cruise in 'Reacher' makes average action film better

Cruise plays a former military cop investigating a sniper case. Paramount has postponed the premiere of "Jack Reacher" scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 15, in Pittsburgh, due to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, File)

Photo by Karen Ballard

Cruise plays a former military cop investigating a sniper case. Paramount has postponed the premiere of "Jack Reacher" scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 15, in Pittsburgh, due to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, File)

Tom Cruise stars as the title character in "Jack Reacher" with support from Robert Duvall as Cash. Cruise makes an average action film slightly better. (Karen Ballard/Paramount Pictures)

Photo by Karen Ballard

Tom Cruise stars as the title character in "Jack Reacher" with support from Robert Duvall as Cash. Cruise makes an average action film slightly better. (Karen Ballard/Paramount Pictures)

Movie Review

‘Jack Reacher’

Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material.

When a gunman takes five lives with six shots, all evidence points to the suspect in custody. On interrogation, the suspect offers up a single ...

Rating: PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material

Length: 130 minutes

Released: December 21, 2012 Nationwide

Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, James Martin Kelly, Jai Courtney

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie

More info and showtimes »

The most unfortunate single shot in a movie this year comes in the opening minutes of "Jack Reacher." A sniper, high up in a car park, is looking down at a city scene through a scope, with the intent of murdering random people going about their business. We see the potential victims through the crosshairs — the movie invites us to identify, not with innocent people, but with the assassin's power. And then, for an endless second and a half, through the crosshairs, we see a little girl.

This is unfortunate timing for "Jack Reacher," because no one wants to see such a thing, especially this week. But it's also unfortunate, in general, in that this is what constitutes family entertainment in America: The MPAA rated this movie PG-13, just as it did "The Dark Knight Rises." As far as the MPAA is concerned, it's completely OK for children to see the soul-contorting depiction of random, senseless murder. Nice job, guys.

Based on the book by Lee Child, "Jack Reacher" is the story of a stern former military man who is hired to investigate what at first looks like an open-and-shut case. As devised by Child, Reacher is a massively built guy, so Cruise is on the diminutive side to be playing him. But don't underestimate Cruise's will and his ability to convey single-mindedness.

Like Paul McCartney's music, Cruise's acting is easy to dismiss when you haven't experienced it in a while. But when you encounter it — not the idea of it, but the genuine article — you know the man has something. A routine thriller automatically gets a lift. It can't really be garbage if it's a Tom Cruise movie.

He's an actor who can make you believe that he can beat a man unconscious with the head of another man, who is also unconscious. He seems just crazy enough to do such a thing. In another scene, faced with the prospect of fighting five guys outside a bar, he is so unworried, so sure of how this has to go, that you really wonder why the other fellows even bother.

Like every action star, Reacher needs a formidable woman and a diabolical adversary. He gets the former in Rosamund Pike, who plays a defense attorney, his employer. And he gets the latter in Werner Herzog, the great director who is slumming here, though he plays a villain in keeping with his fascination for life's extremes. In the film's most memorable scene, he tells a man that he will spare his life, but only if he will eat all the fingers of one hand. Yes, he tells a man to eat his own fingers. The whole audience squirms.

By now, you're getting the idea: An average action film, made slightly better by Cruise, and more bizarre by Herzog, and more watchable by Pike, but still within the average range, a silk purse that still says oink.

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