Jack Reacher is one confusing film. It's not confusing because of the plot though. The limp twists don't come close to the script for The Usual Suspects which snagged Reacher writer/director Christopher McQuarrie an Oscar. Reacher doesn't have nearly as much bite or intelligence or a strong enough cast to pull off the same feat. Let's give McQuarrie the benefit of the doubt; perhaps Reacher is hamstrung by its source material the ninth book in Lee Child's series about the bad-ass drifter who uses his military training to solve crimes. Although McQuarrie's direction is fairly faultless for an actioner like this the script and cast make it woefully uneven.
Some of the actors seem to think it's a very serious film but the smarter and more interesting like Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall realize just how silly this all is and own it. Star Tom Cruise is weirdly blank a slab of stone-faced menace who dances around his own media persona. Cruise seems aware enough that will always be Tom Cruise™ in whatever role he takes on and the only choice he has is to embrace it and lampoon it as he did with Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder.
Are we supposed to believe he's a lady-killer whose rock-hard abs make a female lawyer swoon? Does he realize how hilarious he sounds when he threatens a bad guy that he will "beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot"? Because that is hilarious. He has to know that he's parodying himself. (Do we need to mention that Jack Reacher is so fully realized by his creator Lee Child that he's described even down to his inseam? And that Cruise looks nothing like him?)
On the other hand there are quite a few people who seem to take this all at face value. As Helen Rosamund Pike takes her job as a defense attorney very seriously mostly because her dad (played by always-reliable Richard Jenkins) is the pro-death penalty DA. She's sexually attracted to Reacher because all women are. But he's a drifter and a loner Dottie so forget that girly nonsense and hit the road. They try to talk shop but his shirtlessness apparently drives her to distraction. And when she thinks he's about to make a move on her and she's already protesting what a bad idea that is when he kicks her out. Broads man!
Speaking of broads the only other woman in the movie (other than a silent meth head wrapped cozily in an afghan on a cook house's porch) is a sexy young thing named Sandy. When she tries to provoke Reacher (ladies am I right?) Cruise offers a one-liner comparing the definitions of "hooker" and "slut." There is just no way for someone like Cruise to pull off a deadpan line like this. Statham could do it maybe but this is like watching your dad flirt with a high schooler. "It's just what girls like me do!" Sandy tells him later. There's not enough snap to this script or its delivery to pull off such ickyness.
David Oyelowo is another sinking stone of seriousness as a no-nonsense cop who is annoyed by Reacher and his off-the-cuff investigative methods. As Emerson he plays the bad cop and threatens to put the suspected sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora) in with the general population graphically describing the threats to Barr's various orifices. This should read as snappy cop chatter albeit stomach-turning (when will jail rape stop being a source of amusement?) but it falls flat.
The only shining stars here are Duvall an old-timer who owns a shooting range in Ohio and Herzog a nubby-handed Russian who bit off several of his own fingers in a Siberian gulag and lost others to frostbite. He's also got one milky eye and every single line he delivers is gold. Jack Reacher needed 99% more Herzog and far fewer mindless car chases slut-shaming and weak plot twists. It could also have done with a ruthless editor who would have chiseled off at least 30 minutes from its bloated 2 hour and 10 minute run time. Let's just hope no one gets any wise ideas about adapting any of the other Jack Reacher novels. There are a lot to choose from.