Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
(105 minutes, Rated PG-13)
The film that probably killed the Jack Ryan franchise for another decade, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the latest failure in a long line of reboots. For those who do not know, Jack Ryan is a Tom Clancy character that has been portrayed by Alex Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October), Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears) and the immortal Harrison Ford (Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games). Since, the lukewarm critical reception of Affleck’s portrayal, Hollywood has been looking to reboot the storied character.
And it appeared that they might have found their leading man in Captain Kirk, aka Chris Pine. Unfortunately, this bland excuse for an action adventure feels more like an hour long procedural on CBS than a globe traversing action picture. While there were some elements that I liked, it never rises above mediocrity, which is shame because in the right hands, Chris Pine could have been an effective Jack Ryan.
Meanwhile, Pine’s talents are wasted throughout; he has nothing do and that is because this flick was limited by the need to tell an origin story Yes, the fact that he joins the Marines after 9/11 shows that he is noble and this is further emphasized through his wartime exploits, but the film takes too long to get into the actual plot. Perhaps, the studio wanted to set up Ryan for the new generation, but by the time anything happens, it was halfway through its runtime and I simply did not care anymore.
With that said, I always liked the Jack Ryan archetype because he was not like Arnold Schwarzenegger or the other ‘roided-out’ heroes of the 80s; the character’s brain made up for his lack of brawn (think Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes but with less slow motion). But the terrible pace of the origin story mixed with its lack of a distinct vision causes Shadow Recruit to sink into mediocrity.
Yet, the supporting cast does little to help the sinking ship. While the nameless CIA agents that support Ryan during his later mission are unimportant, it would seem that the more important roles, Costner’s Thomas Harper and Keira Knightley’s Cathy Muller, are poorly written and executed. Costner, who seems to be in the business of collecting paychecks, feels like his Draft Day self: drifting through the movie without really attempting to act. But I cannot blame him because Harper’s field administrative position prevents him from doing anything fun: this ‘boredom problem’ could have been enhanced with good dialogue, but alas, the writers horribly fail to make anything in this product interesting.
On the other hand, Knightley feels like the typical wife caricature: the type that was a product of cinema’s yesteryear and for good reason. Yes, Cathy becomes ‘semi-cool’ when she helps Ryan on his mission, but she never amounts to anything more than a really annoying damsel in distress. Now, add the fact that the usually awesome Keira is horrendous and the audience is treated to the worst interpretation of a modern female character.
As for the villain, Kenneth Branagh’s Viktor is reminiscent of a Roger Moore Bond villain: cartoony, hyperbolic, and ludicrous. This would have been fine, if Branagh was reveling in the craziness, however, his straightforward portrayal mixed with some horrible directing, result in one of the most unintentionally funny villains in recent memory. While he does have a few good scenes with Jack Ryan, their banter cannot prevent the villain from failing on almost every level. From his opening scene, Branagh attempts to make Viktor look like a hardcore tough guy; but his egotistical attempts falter under the notion that Branagh is not intimidating nor does any of his actions make him look that way. And this is nothing against the Shakespearean actor who has played an effective villain before; but he completely miscast himself (something that has been happening a lot lately) and then furthered the buffoonery by over-compensating with an absurd shot selection.
And while this is not the worst direction of 2014 (that still goes to The Legend of Hercules), Branagh’s insipid choices left me indifferent about Shadow Recruit throughout. Even though he proved he was not the best action director with Thor, at least it felt like was trying; the Marvel movie had a wonderful pace that livened the silver screen. Meanwhile, Jack Ryan’s action scenes are poorly shot and edited; the unimaginative style results in the movie having a basic cable quality, which should not be said about a $60 million action adventure.
With that said, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has a handful of scenes that slightly rise above mediocrity; but for the most part, this trudges along to an ending that will leave most viewers ambivalent about the conclusion. Yes, audiences know the inevitable outcome of the picture, but at the least, the filmmakers could have done something to liven the 105-minute runtime. Furthermore, the music adds to the unintentional hilarity; the score, which is reminiscent of a Michael Bay blockbuster, will leave the audience questioning the sanity of the composer.
And finally, the writing is just downright atrocious at times; dumb villains, exposition heavy dialogue, and weird plot devices ruin the writers’ attempt at a smart action affair. I like how their plot revolved around economic terrorism, an idea that has not been successfully conveyed on screen; but the bland writing of Adam Cozad and David Koepp, who happens to be the bane of geeks everywhere, will leave the audience indifferent as the picture trudges along to its pointless conclusion. It is an interesting concept, but nothing is done to really show the urgency of the CIA or their Russian counterparts: in the end, the climactic attack is marred by the horrendous marriage of lackadaisical writing, horrible miscasting and dull directing.
And to make matters worse, I can watch C.S.I. or Criminal Minds and be more entertained than this $60 million disaster. The lazy writing boggles down the complicated plot, which means every other line spewed by an actor has to explain something. Did those involved ever hear of the ‘show do not tell’ technique? As a result, for every entertaining scene, there are three scenes that will attempt to put the viewer to sleep.
Unfortunately, what could have been the reintroduction of a storied character falters from poor choices and what feels like a rushed execution. I truly hope Chris Pine gets one more crack at Ryan because he is the only redeeming quality of this 105 minute ‘snoozefest.’ Avoid this inadequate attempt at a smart action film; if you want that, see the self aware Edge of Tomorrow.