The Arts

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is on par with its precursor

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Reacher feature

**½

As sequels go, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is essentially on par with its 2012 precursor, which didn’t exactly set a particularly high standard.
Once again, producer/star Tom Cruise takes center stage as the title character, the tight-lipped, tightly-coiled ex-soldier who occasionally takes assignments on Uncle Sam’s behalf.
The film reunites Cruise with screenwriter/director Edward Zwick, with whom he previously worked in The Last Samurai (2009) – a good-looking although not especially good film (Ken Watanabe’s Oscar-nominated supporting turn notwithstanding). The proceedings here are competently handled, although Jack Reacher: Never Go Back doesn’t aspire too much beyond said competence.
When Reacher’s current military contact, Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is framed for espionage, Reacher springs into action – springing her from prison and making mincemeat out of soldiers and baddies alike. Said baddies, including Holt McCallany, Robert Knepper and Patrick Heusinger (as a black-clad assassin known only as “The Hunter”), are mixed up in a covert scheme involving a corrupt military contractor and the recent murder of two soldiers in Afghanistan.
Rest assured, this cover-up will require more murders, and more derring-‘do from Reacher and Turner, who’s no shrinking violet when it comes to fisticuffs. Along for the ride is Samantha Dayton (screen newcomer Danika Yarosh), a rebellious teen who may or may not be Reacher’s illegitimate daughter. Needless to say, she’ll become an important pawn as the plot progresses.
At least Zwick keeps things moving, and although this is a Tom Cruise vehicle, the supporting actors get their moments. Smulders and Yarosh bring a bit extra to their characterizations, and Heusinger tries to add some shading to his teeth-gnashing antagonist. Ditto Aldis Hodge, who brings up the rear as the oft-thwarted officer charged with capturing Reacher and Turner.
It’s no surprise how everything turns out, leaving the door wide open for future Jack Reacher films, but that decision rests entirely on the box-office results.

Hell’s a-poppin’

**½

After a seven-year break – and skipping over The Lost Symbol – Tom Hanks and filmmaker Ron Howard reunite for Inferno, the third in the big-screen series based on Dan Brown’s best-sellers.
The earlier films, The DaVinci Code (2006) and Angels & Demons (2009), were big-budget blockbusters, but they also tended to be overlong and overly complicated. In contrast, Inferno is the cheapest (reportedly $75 million) and shortest (121 minutes) of the lot – and, by default, probably the best, although it’s not a very close race.
Hanks again brings his patented everyman appeal and authority to the role of Harvard professor Robert Langdon, once again caught up in international skullduggery rooted in Italian history (more precisely Dante Alighieri), aided and abetted by young doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), but hampered by an unfortunate, inconvenient case of amnesia.
Although he dabbled in fantasy earlier in his career (Cocoon, Willow), Inferno sees Howard dipping his directorial toes in the horror genre, with some genuinely nightmarish imagery fueled by Langdon’s head trauma. There’s also a big Hitchcockian element to the proceedings. (Then again, steal from the best …)
Not unlike Brown’s novels, the film is heavy on exposition and on flashbacks, some of which hamper the story’s momentum. Langdon must once again call upon his expertise to outwit and elude his pursuers and unlock a serpentine puzzle, some pieces of which are trapped in his compromised memory. At stake is the very future of mankind, with the villains basically attempting to put the match to Dante’s Inferno and cause a devastating conflagration.
Other interested parties include Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen, while Ben Foster (whose character exits early but turns up in flashbacks) plays the billionaire conspiracy theorist who masterminded the devious scheme.
The principal locations – Florence, Venice and Istanbul – are picturesque, and the film’s lessened budget is in no ways noticeable. Inferno is a narrative mess at times, but it looks good, kills time, and (once again) sees Tom Hanks hold everything together. Even when all seems lost, he’s on top of things.

Gettin’ jiggy with Iggy

***

With a nod toward the Maysles Brothers’ classic Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter (1970), writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger is a rockin’ romp down Memory Lane with those raucous godfathers of punk, Iggy Pop and The Stooges.
With customarily quirky flourishes and a treasure trove of vintage footage, Jarmusch (an admitted Stooges fan) covers the entire history of The Stooges – the highs and lows, the hits and misses, and everything in-between. Even those with no interest in the band – or punk music – can enjoy this comprehensive chronicle, told in the words of The Stooges themselves.
For all the good humor and warm nostalgia, there’s a serious side, too. Heroin addiction, mismanagement, and the eventual implosion of the band in the 1970s saw the members scattered in all directions, some trying to forge solo careers, form new bands, or simply come back down to Earth, as it were. Although Pop was the front man, the surviving members of the band (some of whom have died in the interim) offer their own reminiscences and assessment of their place in history.
There is, however, a happy ending in the reunion of The Stooges in 2003 and their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. Today, Pop and guitarist James Williamson are the last Stooges standing, and both are content to leave the legacy as it stands. Gimme Danger is both enlightening and entertaining, as well as a fitting (and frequently fun) tribute to its subject.

 Gimme Danger opens Friday

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92 (92.3 FM). Copyright 2016, Mark Burger

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