Tom Cruise, tough guy 

Jack Reacher is a satisfying dose of visceral entertainment.

This is more like it. Jack Reacher is the kind of holiday film for which John McClane would offer a gravelly and enthusiastic yippee-ki-yay. Just as Die Hard’s connection to the winter holidays was tied to that ill-fated party in the Nakatomi Plaza and Vaughn Monroe’s rendition of “Let It Snow,” Reacher gives reason to the season via the spirit of giving. As in doling out some frontier justice to the assholes who deserve it.

Those assholes include Jai Courtney and a grab bag of dim lowlifes led by famed director Werner Herzog, who gives a performance that, brief as it is, is worth the price of your ticket.

Tom Cruise tones his patented charisma way down to suit his character (the film is based on the ninth book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series). Reacher is a well-groomed drifter who lives off the grid: he travels by bus, calls Western Union his bank, and gets his clothes at thrift shops. He’s also an Army vet and ex-military investigator with a reputation that truly precedes him — in a clichéd but amusing scene, Reacher walks in on the lead cop and prosecutor (David Oyemolo and Richard Jenkins) just as they are discussing what a mysterious man this Reacher fellow is. When a soldier he knew is arrested for the daylight murder of five people in a Pittsburgh plaza, Reacher comes out of the shadows to offer his insight into the suspect in custody. As far as Reacher’s concerned, they’ve got their man. As far as defense attorney Helen (Rosamund Pike) is concerned — not so fast. Such is her passion for getting to the truth, Reacher agrees to investigate the crime on her client’s behalf.

As Cruise assesses the evidence, it’s easy to recall his turn — has it really been 20 years already? — in A Few Good Men. Cruise’s Jack is a tougher character, but no less principled, and his sharp logic and eye for details make him a kind of modern-day Sherlock Holmes.

The extended, dread-inducing opening of Jack Reacher recalls a similar scene in 1971’s Dirty Harry. McQuarrie builds the tension by looking through the crosshairs of a rifle sight — and looking some more. The effect is so discomfiting largely because those in the crosshairs have no idea they are being watched — and how close they are to death.

McQuarrie, who scripted The Usual Suspects and directed one feature (The Way of the Gun), seems to have taken a lot of care putting this together. A refreshingly realistic and funny scene finds two thugs learning the hard way about the dangers of swinging baseball bats in confined spaces. With its terse hero, gritty surroundings, and a chase scene featuring muscle cars, Jack Reacher harkens back to films like Bullitt and The French Connection, and their hardboiled heroes and narratives. It’s not quite in their league, but it’s still a satisfying dose of viscera.

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