The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, January 31, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

I think the first 14 years of the 21st Century have earned a new nickname, a new era. We are residents of the Reboot Era!!! Basically any successful franchise series from the past, from any decade with any potential for earning money is going to get a reboot. Young audiences can't be trusted to actually look to the past, can they? Some are good, some are worthy, and some are clearly ploys to make boatloads of money. Enter 2014's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit because there was audiences knocking down doors for a reboot of the famous Tom Clancy character.

Studying in London when the 9/11 attacks occur in New York, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) decides to put his academics on hold, joining the Marines and becoming a hero in Afghanistan in a helicopter accident, saving two fellow Marines. The accident almost cripples him, but as he goes through extreme rehab, Ryan is approached by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), a C.I.A. official interested in recruiting Ryan as an agent. His hope? Harper wants Jack to work as a compliance officer at a brokerage house on Wall Street, looking for patterns and algorithms in the sales and deals. Ryan heads back to school, gets his degree, gets a job and goes to work for the C.I.A. deep undercover. Ten years pass, Ryan staying in touch with Harper, especially when he starts to find hidden accounts from Russian organizations that are doing the exact opposite of what the market suggests. This is enough money to cripple the United States, its government and its economy. Looking to get some answers, Jack heads to Moscow to investigate.

Before his surprising passing in October 2013, Tom Clancy was a go-to author for anyone interested in espionage and military science and technology. His most iconic character? That would be Jack Ryan who has been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck in four Ryan movies. All four movies are good in their own right, but it's been since 12 years since 2002's The Sum of All Fears. Did we really need a reboot? Were audiences clamoring for a new movie? For me, it seems like a ploy to make money, pure and simple. Naive of me? Probably, but here we sit. Still, there was a lot of talent assembled here, and as a Jack Ryan fan, I wanted to give it a shot even if I wasn't dying to see this new espionage thriller from director and co-star Kenneth Branagh.

So is it worth it? Yes and no. I've got some issues with it. This is the first Ryan movie not to be based off a Clancy novel, and I think it shows. We're re-introduced to the character, tweaking his backstory to make it more modern, more appropriate for the 2010s, not the 1980s/1990s. For starters, the movie clocks in at just 105 minutes. Take away a seven or eight minute credit sequence at the end, and we're talking a movie just over 90 minutes long (about the length of your average screwball comedy). From the opening 10-15 minutes, things are far too rush. Ten-plus years of Jack's backstory are jammed into that first 15 minutes. We go from London to Afghanistan to Walter Reed in a flash, and then we're off to international intrigue as Jack really delves into things in the financial world. The character is too cool for it not to be at least remotely interesting. While it has its moments though, it feels like James Bond meets Jason Bourne meets the Mission Impossible series. Not unique enough to really stand out. Still entertaining? Yes, but nowhere near as good as it could have been.

There are positives, starting with the cast. A star of another successful franchise reboot with the Star Trek movies, Pine is a strong choice to play Jack. He's likable, funny, and more than capable of handling himself in an action scene (but more on that little thing later). Too much time is spent on his relationship with his fiance, Cathy (Kiera Knightley, rocking an American accent), as they try to figure out what their future holds. Oh, by the way, he can't tell her he's a C.I.A. agent, Cathy a young, successful doctor relegated to paranoid girlfriend mode. The human element is one thing, a good thing, but focus on the espionage more! Costner has officially become that Actor, the older actor who isn't the A-list star who carries a movie. Instead, he has become that great actor who now plays the key supporting part, stealing scenes left and right. His Thomas Harper is a great supporting part. As for the villain, Branagh plays Viktor Cherevin with relish, a fun bad guy who's smart and sinister and extremist. A fun part, up there with Costner as the best characters.

Rushed though the story may be, it has some really cool set pieces. Upon arriving in Moscow, Ryan must face off with a hired killer (Nonso Anozie), a brutal, knock down fight in a high-class hotel room. The fallout and payoff is just as good, a CIA team coming in to remove any traces of the fight, including the body. Later in a scene reminiscent of 1996's Mission: Impossible, Ryan must sneak into Cherevin's highly-guarded office with every sort of security imaginable. Knightley's Cathy helps distract Cherevin while Costner's Harper looks on as security from the building across the street. It is a perfectly tense extended sequence that shows you don't need huge special effects or explosions or gimmicks to work. Definitely the high point of the movie.

Where are the gimmicks then? In the immediate follow-up, and that's where the rushed feeling of the entire movie becomes an issue. It's the type of scene that drives me nuts. With time running out, Jack figures out in about 37 seconds what Cherevin's plan is, how he'll execute it, where he'll do it, when, how his sleeper agent (Alec Utgoff) will accomplish it, how he created the bomb, blah blah blah. It's an almost painful scene, agents sitting around a command post and plane while Ryan rattles off numbers and names and questions, clues coming together at an alarming rate. Yeah, I get it. He's a brilliant analyst, but he's able to do in minutes what the C.I.A. and all the government agents couldn't do in years? Come on, man! I'm not buying it. The one actual action sequence in the movie follows it up, a sequence with a complete lack of a payoff. It counts far too much on coincidence to work, characters doing things that need to happen for the story to continue, not because it makes any sense.

I realize I'm really ripping this one. I can't help it. When it is bad, it is really bad, but I still found myself liking it. I walked away disappointed because the finale is so dumb, but the build-up was entertaining. 'Shadow' does have the feel of a throwback spy movie where the Russians are evil, the Americans angelically good, and dammit, we've gotta save the world. Definitely a mixed bag, but just enough to recommend in the mindless entertainment department. I just expect more from a Jack Ryan movie.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014): ** 1/2 /****

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