Monday, January 20, 2014

'Jack Ryan' solid, despite treading little new ground

This review originally appeared on the KPC Media Group website and in its three daily newspapers on Sunday. Read the original review here. Reprinted with permission. 

I suppose there is some way to reinvent the action-thriller, but until some genius comes up with a new twist on the old standby, Hollywood will probably keep churning them out.

But if they're as zippy and fun as "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," you won't hear me complaining.
The movie follows Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), a brilliant young former Marine turned CIA analyst who is thrust into the field to try to stop evil Russian banker Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) from ruining the U.S. economy with a terror attack timed perfectly with some economic mumbo-jumbo. Adding an additional wrinkle - but also an additional asset, as it turns out - Jack must also protect his fiance, Cathy (Kiera Knightley).

Jack is a little different from your basic action-thriller hero, in the sense that he is not immediately good at field work. Even though he is a former Marine, he is an egghead at heart, with a Ph.D. in economics and very little training in field work. But like every good action hero, he soon finds his footing and is sneaking into heavily guarded buildings, beating bad guys to a pulp and generally being awesome by about halfway through the movie.

Also a little bit refreshing is Cathy, who, thank goodness, breaks out of the suspicious, shrewish girlfriend role partway through the movie and proves herself to be a brave, capable sidekick for Jack for a big chunk of the middle of the movie before being relegated to the background for the final showdown. Still, she's also incredibly smart - I mean, she's a doctor - and she's brave, too. I would actually love to see Cathy and Jack put their brains together to bring down terrorists on a regular basis in movies. Get on that, Hollywood!

Still, these notable aspects are really just slight tweaks on extremely common tropes. During the movie, even though I enjoyed it, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" all seemed pretty familiar. And, let's face it, that's not a surprise. In addition to being in more than a dozen novels penned by Tom Clancy, this is far from the first time Jack has been on the big screen. Although he's played by different actors, Jack Ryan is the main character of "The Hunt for Red October," "Patriot Games," "Clear and Present Danger" and "The Sum of All Fears."

Despite the fact that it's not exactly fresh, though, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is not a waste of time at the movies. Chris Pine does an excellent job putting his own stamp on the character, which can't be easy when Jack Ryan has also been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. Pine does an excellent job of making Jack's motiviations clear. He's tough, but that's because he's determined to do his job and save the country. He's not an action hero robot, though - it's nice to see the main character in a thriller visably shaken after killing somebody. There's an underlying humanity that is always there, and it gives "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" just a little more depth.

This movie doesn't reinvent the wheel, and it doesn't even really tread much new ground. What it does do, though, is deliver a solid, watchable story with a lead character that's relatable (and good-looking, if you're into that sort of thing). Some days, there's nothing I'd rather watch more.

Jenny's Take: See it before it leaves theaters.
(Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language. Runs 105 minutes.)

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