Key to enjoying this competent and enjoyable flick is the fact that: one, Tom Cruise produced it, and his mother didn't spawn no laid-back fluke -- he's not in the business of selling dogs; and two, we are in the presence of a tightly crafted entertainment that aims to please, and it achieves just that.
A solid police procedural of a convoluted and ingenious crime, Reacher is a former USAF M.P. with Sherlockian powers of ratiocination. Hailed into a case of seeming mass murder, he immediately takes mastery of the mise en scene, baffling the defense lawyer (pert Rosamund Pike) who must patch together some sort of defense for the accused sharpshooter despite overwhelming evidence against him. We willingly suspend disbelief because Cruise/Reacher shows us how initial cut-and-dried judgments of who is guilty, why and how, can be...dead wrong.
Beyond the fun of a tsunami of testosterone (you feel like chewing 10-inch nails when you get out, even if you're a protected party fille in designer Louboutins), you have in the lead character, eponymous Jack Reacher, an update of the taciturn Alan Ladd Shane icon, a slightly more stateless cool Clint Eastwood. Man Alone. You get the idea.
Cruise's shrewd conceit is to strip his anti-hero hero of the lanyards of civilization today. While none of us can cruise through life without credit cards, jobs, telephones and bills, a change of clothes, a set of wheels -- the whole connectedness matrix -- the film asks us to accept that unlikely convention. Reacher is hard to reach, 'cause he lacks any of the usual tentacles of society making it so easy to Google or Wiki him blam in a tick. It further teaches us to accept his rootlessness. We do.
By this time in the ongoing saga of film's century we've seen enough crime thrillers to expect a chase, but this one's done by the hero -- no stunt subs. The pacing allows no shilly-shallying. And the script features a pilpulic intelligence: Reacher is encyclopedic in his grasp of the essentials, the details of any setting, the unstated unobvious. It's a Mensa tease-out to see him at lightning speed dismiss the supine superficial clue for the tertiary extrapolation of what something means. You try to out-jump him in his leaps from the evidence to what is really at issue. More fun than an SAT, Watson.
Add into the mix the droll, welcome appearance of crusty and lovable Robert Duvall; an authentic sonuvaB bad guy, Zek (Warner Herzog), that your skin crawls at the sight of; and an impressive if ambivalent D.A., Richard Jenkins. It's played out in Pennsylvania, too -- no jamming up the bridges and back-roads of Gotham or LaLa Land, for a decided and relieving change.
Much of the flash-by scenery is dark, gritty, uncosmetized. Another aspect of the film is that it is devoid of scatology, a holiday surprise. And even more unusual, considering the lovely heroine, there is nothing you couldn't show to your maiden church-going aunt. Say what you will about the nutcase private sensibility of Mr. Cruise, under this film's game-plan, he pulls it off, as confident and maximally controlled as any Luke, Craig or Gosling.
No cursing. No smoking. No onscreen s-e-x. All right, it's not a perfect holiday bonbon. How compelling could such a flick be?