Cooper and Lawrence:

by Mark Burger

Offbeat and on-target in Silver Linings Playbook Tom’s cruising for another action franchise with Jack Reacher

Silver Linings Playbook (***½) has been adapted from Matthew Quick’s novel by screenwriter/director David O. Russell in first-rate fashion. It’s a romantic comedy with edge and charm, with beautifully realized and endearingly quirky characters — unquestionably one of the year’s best (the year being 2012, of course).

Bradley Cooper (also an executive producer) and Jennifer Lawrence give superlative performances in difficult roles, playing Pat and Tiffany, damaged characters who tend to resent their own vulnerabilities. Pat has recently returned to live with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, both terrific) after suffering a mental breakdown and a marital break-up. Tiffany masks her grief over her husband’s death with promiscuity. Pat and Tiffany may not be perfect for each other, but they just might be made for each other.

Pat is determined to reunite with his estranged wife (an unlikely prospect), yet he and Tiffany tentatively form an emotional bond when she coerces him into participating in an annual dance contest. The course of true love never ran smoothly and nowhere is that more evident than here, as their pairing is fraught with tension and suspicion. Each has been hurt by previous relationships, and are understandably wary of commitment.

A fine supporting cast includes Julia Stiles, John Ortiz, Paul Herman, Shea Whigham, Dash Mihok as a local cop who always turns up at exactly the wrong time, Anupam Kher as Pat’s therapist, Russell’s son Matthew as a nosy neighbor, and Chris Tucker (whom we don’t see enough of these days) as Pat’s friend Danny, whom he met during his incarceration and who keeps turning up at his door, claiming — wrongly, as it turns out — to have been released due to legal technicalities.

The film also has a great feel for its Philadelphia setting, with Pat’s family obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles football team (a depressing thought, given the team’s record this season), yet it’s the emotional impact that resonates long after the film has ended. Silver Linings Playbook is a hands-down winner for all concerned — including the audience.

Tom Cruise doesn’t physically resemble the hulking hero in Lee Child’s series of Jack Reacher action novels, but the producer/ leading man is certainly tough and buff to convince enough as the title character.

Reacher swaggers into town (Pittsburgh, in this case) to look into a seemingly random shooting spree in which five people were gunned down. It seems an open-andshut case for the local district attorney (ever-reliable Richard Jenkins), whose own daughter (ever-fetching Rosamund Pike) is representing the accused shooter (Joseph Sikura).

Not so fast, as Jack discovers (none too quickly, alas). There’s a conspiracy at work, and Jack is determined to get to the bottom of it. He’s nimble and he’s quick —sorry, couldn’t resist — and it’s not long before he’s battling and bashing the bad guys, led by filmmaker Werner Herzog (as “The Zec”), in a scenery-chewing performance of dizzying magnitude. He’s even chewed off some of his own fingers. No kidding.

Director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (who scored an Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects) has a tendency to explore every facet of the convoluted plot when a more streamlined approach would have been more expedient. Jack Reacher runs 130 minutes and simply doesn’t need to. It’s never dull, and Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is terrific, but narrative patience in this case isn’t a virtue.

Jenkins and David Oyelowo (as an earnest cop) add some heft to stock characters, while Robert Duvall — chewing some scenery of his own, as is his right at this stage of his career — provides some crusty comic relief as Jack’s kind of guy: rough, ready, and armed to the teeth. (Interestingly, it’s not until very late in the proceedings that Jack opts for firearms over fisticuffs, but of course by then the stakes have been raised.)

Cruise was lucky with the Mission:

Impossible franchise — even though it took four films to get it right — but that had a brand name attached. The Jack Reacher novels are popular, and so too is Cruise, who’s hardly bulletproof but has been a superstar for the better part of 25 years. Only time and box-office receipts will tell whether Jack will be back. As franchise kick-offs go, this isn’t a bad one — and is certainly superior to the bloated but wildly successful adaptation of The Hunger Games — but there’s room for improvement.

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