Monday, January 27, 2014

Clear and No Surpises--Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

     There's no real reason to call Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit a Tom Clancy movie: sure, some of the characters are based upon the late author's, but there isn't too much to differentiate between Jack and Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt--other than Jack Ryan, in this 5th incarnation that features the character (dating back to Alec Baldwin's portrayal in 1990's The Hunt for Red October) is less exciting than most. He's just a pretty face who knows how to handle himself in stressful situations, instead of a gruff and entertaining machismo like what Harrison Ford brought to the table. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit contains all of the ingredients to make delicious spy-movie stew (a good director and supporting cast, an intriguing echoes-of-Cold-War story): but since this incarnation of the Ryan character is so bland, Shadow Recruit becomes a tame and by-the-numbers action movie. It barely satiates your appetite.
    Chris Pine stars as the titular character, and he has enough charm to definitely make Jack likable. But he's more fitted to the cocky swagger of Captain Kirk than the humble Marine turned Wall Street compliance officer that Jack Ryan is in this "reboot" of the so-called franchise. We first meet Jack as he witnesses the 9/11 attacks from London, where he's attending their School of Economics. Deciding to become a Marine, he gets deployed to Afghanistan to fight for his country. Events transpire that cause him to become a hero, and people take notice: most notably Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner, in full-on mentor mode) and Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), his rehab nurse who gets all googly-eyed at his quick progress.
     So begins this reboot, minus any significant excitement that the viewer got from Bond's reboot in Casino Royale or Batman's in Batman Begins. We flash-forward 10 years, and Jack is working under cover on Wall Street for the CIA, trying to decipher terrorist activity through stocks, companies and numbers. He soon finds enough information about some peculiar transactions, and he gets sent to Moscow on what turns out is his first operational mission, complete with assassins, constant surveillance and a loaded handgun.
     Much of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit's tension revolves around typing on a computer or plugging a drive into a port or hacking into security systems. It's all very hi-tech, but there's only so much excitement one can draw from fast-moving fingers on a computer screen with hundreds of codes and passwords flying by. We get a villain, Victor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed), a Russian who plans to bring down America's economic system. But villains have been far more complex and terrifying in many different Bond films. Sometimes you may wonder how Victor even became so powerful, since he gets duped numerous times by ideas that are in the Obvious 101 handbook. The climax of the film is kind of laughable and anticlimactic, featuring a generic motorcycle chase scene and some hand-to-hand combat where the viewer can barely decipher who is punching who.
      These first couple of months of the new year are usually the cinematic dumping grounds, where studios drop off films without originality or wit to die. Occasionally, viewers can come upon a surprise: but Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit surely isn't it. The cast and director Kenneth Branagh (who has the skills--he directed the first Thor) do fine with the standard script, but the lack of major excitement and the absence of any thought-provoking views make this Jack Ryan a film that won't be remembered a few months from now.     (C+)

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