2012’s Jack Reacher was, at its best, an amusingly bare-bones action movie with a level of simplicity that may have felt a bit like a gritty ’70s throwback to some, but that more realistically resembled a made-for-cable movie circa the early ’90s. Never Go Back doubles down on the latter vibe and the result is virtually indistinguishable from something you might have watched on TNT in 1993 starring Michael Pare or James Remar, except that it apparently cost 90 million dollars and features one of the biggest stars on Earth. (And admittedly Tom Cruise is as reliable a showman-anchor for this sort of thing as ever, perfectly selling himself as the ultimate do-gooder badass.) Scrapping the first film’s violent intensity and slick detective-thriller plot, this one finds Cruise’s drifter/bruiser trying to clear the name of a lady he might like to date, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, despite that setup portrayed as Reacher’s tough-babe equal) when she’s falsely arrested for espionage (a big step down from the Reacher 2012 mystery, which kicked off with a truly gnarly sniper attack sequence).
Virtually indistinguishable from something you might have watched on TNT in 1993 starring Michael Pare or James Remar.
What follows is mostly a bunch of bland exposition occasionally interrupted by the thing we’re all here to see, Cruise beating up henchmen. Unfortunately all that talking is entirely televisual, simple shot/reverse shot stuff; the fights pointlessly cut away from impacts and are muddled by needless camera moves. We’re in the realm of five cuts to show two police cars parking. One unusual thing here does work: a weirdly shoehorned-in subplot about a teenage girl (Danika Yarosh) who may or may not be Reacher’s illegitimate daughter, and who ends up on the run with him, leading to a series of surrogate-family scenes straight out of director Edward Zwick and co-screenwriter Marshall Herskovitz’s groundbreaking TV work (see “thirtysomething” and “My So-Called Life”). The relationship drama this occasionally bursts into belongs in an entirely different movie, but it’s also funny, clever, and sincere, and it’s the only element of the movie that’s actually worthwhile.