"Weird to meet you," says a detective (David Oyelowo) to Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), after Reacher, a former military investigator now living off the grid, shows up to throw a hundred wrenches into a seemingly open-and-shut case against an alleged mass shooting suspect, James Barr (Joseph Sikora).
Barr has asked for Reacher by name as the one man who can exonerate him, but the detective is only acknowledging what everyone, including the audience, sees: Reacher is as close to achieving Terminator robot status as a flesh-covered being can. He speaks in strangely clipped, often cryptic sentences or pointed looks, never wasting words, always assuming an air of alien authority, his tone of voice invariably suggesting that everybody better just wait and see how right he was. About everything. He's the man in control and if he has to splinter your arm with his bare hands to prove it, he will. He's weird in that way you should probably run from if you see him coming in your direction.
According to Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" series of books (this film adaptation is based on Child's One Shot), our badass hero is also a very large man, about 6'5". This sort of stature brings to mind actors like the 6'4" Ray Stevenson, star of one of the past decade's more insane films, Punisher: War Zone. It does not bring to mind Tom Cruise. He's short. And not all that frightening.
But whatever. Cruise is a weirdo. That's now standard off-screen knowledge. And, more importantly for this character, he's clearly thinking big with his entire body here. Every move he makes is designed to communicate unstoppable-machine qualities and his thoroughly convincing performance is a testament to the actor’s tenacity and commitment to getting every detail right. Do not underestimate the tenacity of the strange and un-tall.
Barr's defense lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), frequently one step behind Reacher’s unconventional approach to ferreting out the truth, usually responds to him with bewildered looks and incredulous statements. You would too if you were the one caught up in the film's ridiculously detailed conspiracy of deception regarding the shooter's guilt or innocence. And as Reacher unearths new threads of meaning from every encounter and offhanded moment he also gets involved in some nicely old-fashioned battles with bad guys. Thanks to writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and his left-field approach to generic action-mystery-thriller tropes, even those are weird, usually stripped of (the otherwise awesome '70s-TV-cop-drama-meets-vintage-noir) score, edited for maximum visceral impact and peppered with odd jokes. There's a hilarious fight sequence between Cruise and two menacing lugs that will remind you of an extremely violent Three Stooges brawl, a shootout lightened up by Robert Duvall as a grouchy old gun range owner and a car chase that earns the right to be thought of as deadpan.
But wait, there's more. Werner Herzog. Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog. As a villain named The Zec. A character so Herzog-y it should be its own SNL sketch, a character so brutal he chewed off his own fingers in a Soviet prison rather than succumb to death. But is The Zec any match for Jack Reacher's smoke-and-mirrors giantism and power-fighting? Is the audience any match for this kind of near-absurdist approach to standard-issue thriller conventions? Will Jack Reacher fail to entertain you on its own weird, meaningless terms? What do you think?