Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ***
Directed by Edward Zwick; screenplay by Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz
Starring Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Robert Knepper
118’; USA 2016.

Lone hero and wanderer, Jack Reacher is a former military man who continues to serve his Country by cleaning up bad guys throughout the United States, following no other rules but his own. Esteemed by his former colleagues from the 110th Military Police Unit of Virginia, to which he more than often lends a helping hand, he makes a new friendship on the phone with Major Susan Turner — who inherited Reacher’s position in the base — and decides to meet her in person. On that day, however, he discovers that the woman has been arrested, charged with espionage and held responsible for the death of two soldiers in Afghanistan. Sensing something isn’t right, Reacher begins to investigate, thus attracting the attention of someone very powerful who manages to charge him for a murder he never committed, someone whom the hero will have to watch for if he wants to stay alive.

A screen adaptation of the eighteenth in a series of more than twenty novels by British novelist Lee Child, Point of No Return picks up three years after the events of the first Jack Reacher, which did not do so well at the North American box office, but got back on its feet thanks to foreign markets, DVD sales and streaming. The fate of the first movie is typical for B-Movies, which usually distinguish themselves by a slow start and a long run. Its director and screenwriter was Christopher McQuarrie, whom Tom Cruise met while shooting Valkyrie (2008), Cruise then took with him as a writer in Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and more importantly as writer and director for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015). Cruise, who, as in the movies mentioned above is also a producer, likes to work with people with whom he gets on well. In this case he brings back the same team: director Edward Zwick, and screenwriter Marshall Herskovitz from The Last Samurai (2003).

Given the names involved the picture should be promising, but the movie does not stretch much beyond the honest entertainment you quickly forget. In truth, Jack Reacher is a hero the cinema needs: an outsider by choice, who chooses not to have masters and to obey only his own conscience; a knight with a few flaws but a fearless champion of justice; who only kills in self-defense, and has a great respect for the women who join him and their virtues.

Good, right? Not exactly. Because the script, attempting to pursue a theme, is not centred as it should: traveling along with the hero we find the beautiful army officer (who proves to be as tough as he is) and a teenage girl enigmatically tied to him (the doubt about an alleged family link lingers almost to the end credits). “Instead of being a lone wolf” — so the author of the book summed up the meaning of the story — “Jack Reacher becomes part of a team of three. They will have to work together to get out of trouble, but none of them are familiar with the concept of taking orders. They are all used to being leaders of themselves.”

On paper, then, a change is required from the hero; he has to adapt to a completely new situation and perhaps to take on a responsibility that is decisive for his life. The storyline and the staging, however, are so conventional that they cannot, on the screen, deliver these exciting challenges. Stylistically, the authors are undecided whether to resume the sardonic humor of the first film or to take a more intimate and somber tone, with the consequence of losing both in terms of entertainment and psychological insight.

Problematic elements: some scenes of brutal violence and some foul language.

Raffaele Chiarulli is a graduate in the Disciplines of Art, Music and Entertainment and a PhD in Media Studies at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, where he attended the prestigious...