Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/27/14 17:27:24

"Dead Again"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Thanks to a combination of deadline crunches, appalling weather conditions and outright laziness, I only got around to finally seeing "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" a couple of days ago. Although I originally had no particular plans to deal with it at any length--and if its fairly anemic returns at the box office to date are any indication, you have no burning interest in it anyway--I must confess that there were a few questions that came to mind while watching it that I would like to grapple with briefly, if you don't mind.

"When Did Kenneth Branagh Suddenly Become The Modern-Day Peter Hyams?": Although I cannot say that I have always been a fan of Branagh's work as a filmmaker over the years, his work used to at least be relatively ambitious from an artistic standpoint. His full-length "Hamlet" remains one of the more remarkable films based on the works of William Shakespeare and the underrated thriller "Dead Again" was pure B-movie bliss but even when the end results were dreadful (such as his take on "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" or his inexplicable musical version of "Love's Labor Lost"), you at least got the sense that he was trying to do something interesting. Therefore, I am baffled as to why, on the basis of both this film and his previous work, "Thor," that he now seems to be Paramount's go-to guy for franchise films that they can't convince a bigger name to do. As with "Thor," his work is slick and competent enough but the notion that the guy who did "Hamlet" could come up with something as blandly efficient as this fairly boggles the mind.

"If You Are Going To Reboot The Jack Ryan Franchise, Why Not Actually Reboot It?": The Jack Ryan books written by the late Tom Clancy were massive tomes--I don't think I have ever managed to get through one myself despite numerous attempts over the years--that were notable for their jargon-heavy literary approaches and a fondness for narratives that were often driven by lingering Cold War-era tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Obviously, the geopolitical situation has changed considerably since then so one might think that in rebooting the series with a screenplay not beholden to any of Clancy's books, screenwriters David Koepp and Adam Kozad would find a way to unite the Jack Ryan character with these new circumstances. Instead, they come up with a fairly tiresome saga in which the Russians--in the form of a oily billionaire (played by Branagh) with a dastardly yet unwieldy plan to crash the U.S. economy via a surprise attack--are once again the bad guys and in which the current War on Terror is scarcely mentioned. The whole thing has an overly familiar feel to it--it often feels like Koepp is reheating discarded ideas from his screenplay for "Mission: Impossible"--and things get so tedious after a while that I became convinced that this was all leading up to some massive plot twist that would change everything but no, it all goes exactly by the book and there isn't even a book per se for it to go by in the first place.

"Isn't There Anyone Out There Who Could Have Played Jack Ryan Instead Of Chris Pine?": One of the reasons that the Jack Ryan franchise has never quite gotten off the ground despite several attempts is because of the continued unrest in terms of casting the central role. Alec Baldwin was good in "The Hunt for Red October" but refused to sign on for any sequels. Harrison Ford was a decent substitute in the follow-ups "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger" but, if I recall correctly, Clancy wasn't much of a fan of his casting. The casting of Ben Affleck in "The Sum of All Fears" was roundly criticized but even he was okay in the part--he just had the bad luck to have his come out at just the moment when the moviegoing public had grown sick of him thanks to his tabloid antics. Pine, by comparison, is just all wrong for the part--for a mere analyst suddenly thrust into life-or-death situations, he just seems far too glib and self-assured in his new circumstances than he should realistically be. A bigger problem is that when he plays scenes up against veteran performers like Branagh or Kevin Costner (as his CIA mentor), he can't help but come across as being even less substantial than normal.

"Why Cast Keira Knightley In A Film And Then Give Her Absolutely Nothing To Do?" Look, I understand that Knightley has a tendency to polarize some moviegoers but with a number of box-office successes and a couple of Oscar nominations under her tiny belt, even her naysayers would have to grudgingly admit that she is past the point of being stuck playing the boring girlfriend part in anonymous Hollywood blockbusters. And yet, that is exactly what she has been signed up to do here and the waste of her talents on the kind of part usually reserved for the second lead on a mid-level TV series hoping to break through to the big screen is maybe the most startling thing about the film. The only time when she gets to do something other than look pretty and/or pensive is a scene in which she is required to act flirty with Branagh as a diversionary tactic while Pine is off doing some damn thing or another. Not surprisingly, this is the only scene in the film that has any real life or snap to it and one can only assume that Branagh cast her for no other reason that the fact that doing so would allow him to spend a couple of days in close quarters with her and get paid for it. As someone who wouldn't mind spending a couple of days bantering with Keira Knightley myself, I suppose I cannot really argue with that logic.

"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" isn't a particularly awful movie by any means--it moves quickly enough, it has been made with a certain degree of skill and Costner (who was once considered to play Jack Ryan himself in "The Hunt for Red October" until he passed in order to work on "Dances with Wolves") steals most of his scenes as the mentor. No, the problem is that after all the time, money and effort that clearly went into it, the end result is almost shockingly forgettable--by the time they sit down to dinner afterwards, it will have already slipped the minds of most viewers. Oh well, better luck next time, which I believe is now the official motto for the franchise as a whole

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