Monday, January 20, 2014
Chris Pine follows in the footsteps of Ben Affleck, Harrison Ford, and Alec Baldwin as the fourth actor to breathe life into Tom Clancy’s best-selling, literary hero Jack Ryan. Happily, Pine handles himself well both in the action scenes as well as the dialogue interludes. Sadly, neither freshman scribe Adam Cozad nor seasoned “Jurassic Park” scenarist David Koepp provide Pine with anything quotable. Meanwhile, Pine’s chief adversary, played by Shakespearean trained thespian Kenneth Branagh, lacks not only memorable lines but also intimidating scenes. Branagh’s best bad guy scene shows him sticking a white LED light bulb into the leading lady’s mouth. Dreadful consequences, he warns our emaciated heroine, will ensue if he shatters the bulb in her mouth. Meantime, as director, Branagh regales us with beautiful scenery both urban and rural, inevitable automotive chases continents apart, immaculate shoot-outs between Russian and CIA gunmen, and our hero in close-quarters combat with adversaries. Branagh doesn’t orchestrate these activities with his usual finesse. Essentially, the $60-million dollar “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (** OUT OF ****) qualifies as a derivative espionage thriller with most of the clichés intact. One of the worst clichés involves slender Keira Knightley posing as a helpless damsel-in-distress. You know from the moment that you see her that she is going to be the tennis ball heroine who gets swatted back and forth between the hero and the villains. The wicked Branagh plots an appropriately horrific 9/11 attack on Manhattan that will set off another devastating global economic depression. Branagh’s millionaire Russian villain hopes this geopolitical strategy will destroy America. Comparatively, Batman’s arch foe Bane pulled a similar stunt in “The Dark Knight Rises.” If it succeeds in doing nothing else, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” resurrects the long dormant enmity between the Russians with a retro-Cold War agenda and the United States.
For the record, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” doesn’t pick up the narrative thread where either “Clear and Present Danger” (1994) or “The Sum of All Fears” (2002) faded out. “The Hunt for Red October,” “Patriotic Games,” and “Clear and Present Danger” constituted the first series of Jack Ryan’s cinematic escapades. Incidentally, Paramount tampered with Clancy’s literary chronology because the novel “Patriotic Games” preceded “The Hunt for Red October.” Meanwhile, “The Sum of All Fears” (2002) amounted to a franchise reboot with Ben Affleck. Director Kenneth Branagh’s spy saga has no connection to the previous four films. Moreover, the filmmakers didn’t adapt a Tom Clancy novel to serve as the basis for “Jack Ryan.” The bestselling author passed away in October 2013. Reportedly, Paramount Pictures hired Adam Cozad to rewrite his own screenplay "Dubai" and convert the hero into Jack Ryan. Branagh and scenarists David Koepp and Cozad have retained our hero’s financial background and his terrifying helicopter accident. Since this is another ‘origins’ reboot, Paramount has altered the dates. Indeed, renegade Russians are behaving like their Communistic ancestors before the empire collapsed in 1989. You might go so far as to describe this movie as a retro-Cold War saga pitting Uncle Sam against the Russian Bear.
The first time we see our protagonist Jack Ryan (Chris Pine of “Star Trek”) he is catching forty winks on a bench. Ryan has enrolled as a student at the London School of Economics. As he is ambling back to class, Jack notices a commotion around a television set. The year is 2001, and the unbelievable has happened to the World Trade Center. Stunned by this tragic turn of events, Ryan joins the Marine Corps and becomes a jarhead lieutenant. Narrowly, he escapes death when enemy mortar fire brings down the helicopter that he is riding in over Afghanistan. Badly smashed up from the attack, Jack struggles to walk again. A pretty physical therapist, Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley of “Domino”), enters Jack’s life and motivates him to keep on trying. Jack and Cathy know they are made for each other, but their jobs create tension and suspicion. CIA Agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner of “No Way Out”) recruits Ryan after our protagonist proves he can walk again. Harper sends Jack back to school for a Ph.D. in Economics. Harper never takes his eye off Ryan.
A decade later, Harper plants Ryan as an agency mole on Wall Street to ferret out possible terrorist activities in the financial community. Suspecting that Soviet Afghan war veteran Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh of “Hamlet”) has been manipulating finances with evil designs, Jack flies to Russia to confront him. Jack’s life changes irrevocably after he lands in Moscow. Harper watches over Ryan like a guardian angel from the shadows. A first-rate sniper, Harper has no qualms about shooting anybody who interferes with Ryan. After their initial meeting, Viktor invites Jack to dinner at a restaurant across the street from his headquarters. At the last minute, Jack’s fiancée Cathy surprises them both with her presence. Cathy fascinates Viktor so much so that he forgets about Ryan. While Viktor flirts with Cathy, Ryan burglarizes Viktor’s computers to get the goods on him. Of course, the Russians get wise to Ryan, but he escapes without incriminating himself.
The best thing about “Jack Ryan” is that Branagh maintains headlong momentum despite all of the predictable, standard-issue, melodramatics. Unhappily, most of what occurs here has been done before with greater flair by the James Bond spectacles and the Jason Bourne thrillers. The final scenes in New York City generate a modicum of suspense as our hero tangles with a committed terrorist who wants to blow Wall Street to smithereens. Again, we’ve seen this kind of hair-raising nonsense too often for it shake us up. Kevin Costner seems squandered in a co-starring role as an agency spook who recruits Jack. Vic Armstrong and his colleagues perform several tough stunts, but “Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit” suffers from an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. This is probably the least entertaining Jack Ryan outing.