The trick to enjoying Never Go Back, the second film based on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series of books, is to accept without question the setup that the film offers in the first few scenes.
For reasons that are never explained — never, for that matter, revisited or even mentioned again at any stage in the film — Reacher (Tom Cruise; just try to look past the fact that it’s Tom Cruise and you’ll be fine…) is involved with Major Susan Turner, a military police officer from the same unit Reacher was a member of before he became, as he reminds us frequently, ex-Major Reacher. They flirt a little over the phone as Reacher greyhounds his way to Washington to pay her a suprise visit, at which point he finds her arrested for offences unspecified, and himself embroiled in a conspiracy involving a corrupt security company working with the American army in Iraq. Thrown into the mix, just to keep things complicated, is Sam, a fifteen-year-old bag of attitude and pickpocketing skills that may or may not be a junior Reacher. Reacher springs Turner from a maximum-security military prison, as you do, and the two go on the run while trying to unravel the conspiracy.
So it’s an agreeably preposterous story, but who cares? Cruise plays, as he has for many years, making quite a career out of it along the way, himself, but he plays the one roll he can play with a certain degree of easy charm. Cobie Smulders plays Turner; she’s lately been building a name for herself in various action pieces, but she’ll always be Robin Sparkles from How I Met Your Mother, and while, in HIMYM, she had the benefit of outstanding scripts and an exceptional supporting cast, in Never Go Back she is a little more on her own, and the limitations of her acting talents are a little more exposed. To be fair, she’s not really given a huge amount to work with other than, it would appear, instructions to sound intense and earnest at all times — instructions Cruise was also, clearly, given, with the result that there’s precious little light and shade in much of the film, and the two leads have little opportunity to develop any kind of chemistry together.
Instead, there’s the usual fighty-punchy-smashy fight scenes that you’d expect. Reacher gets the crap kicked out him, but manages to escape without even a scratch, except when bruised knuckles make for a plot point. There’s the usual four-heavies-attack-one-at-a-time fight, but at least this time the film has the grace to point out that this is what’s happening. There’s the ridiculousness of Turner, on the run, literally, from prison, running through the streets of DC in her combat fatigues the baseball cap she appears to have cadged from a taxi driver the only thing that offers any kind of disguise.
It’s a flawed film, and you’ll spend the first half an hour wondering where it’s going, and, indeed, if it’s actually going anywhere. Director Edward Zwick takes his time in getting the film started, and when it does finally hit its stride, it’s a largely unremarkable action thriller. But there is a standout, in the shape of Danika Yarosh, who plays, possibly, Reacher’s daughter Sam. She’s a slow burn, an obnoxious brat to begin with who Yarosh manages to flesh out into an interesting, vulnerable, credible and well-realised character, something Cruise and Smulders struggle to do.
It could have been a lot worse. It should have been a lot better. There will be more.