‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’: The sum of all cliches
By RICHARD ROEPER Movies Columnist January 16, 2014 2:10PM
The therapist (Keira Knightley) who helps Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) recover from an injury becomes his fiancee. | PARAMOUNT
‘JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT’ ★★1⁄2
Jack Ryan Chris Pine
Harper Kevin Costner
Viktor Kenneth Branagh
Cathy Keira Knightley
Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp, based on characters created by Tom Clancy. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language). Opens Friday at local theaters.
Updated: February 18, 2014 6:07AM
Following in the manly-man footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, Chris Pine becomes the fourth actor since 1990 to play Tom Clancy’s famous CIA analyst Jack Ryan in the awkwardly titled “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” a 21st century Cold War spy film with the Russians back in their old role as our most feared and despised enemy.
Pine’s done a terrific job as Captain Kirk in the last two “Star Trek” films, so we know he’s capable of stepping into a seriously iconic character —but he’s at best OK in Kenneth Branagh’s well-made but sometimes thuddingly ridiculous thriller, which often plays like an American version of a James Bond movie, complete with over-the-top villains and disposable henchmen.
This is something of an origin story, taking us back to Ryan’s introduction to the CIA. (Like the Bond movies, the Jack Ryan films feature the same character in different eras. You just go with it.)
We open in September of 2001, with Jack a student at the London School of Economics who is inspired to join the Marines after the 9/11 attacks. After sustaining near-fatal injuries when his helicopter is struck in combat, Jack is sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he learns how to walk again with the help of a plucky physical therapist/medical student named Cathy, played by the lovely Keira Knightley. (Ms. Knightley does a fairly decent job with her American accent.)
Kevin Costner (who once turned down the role of Jack Ryan so he could concentrate on “Dances With Wolves”) is veteran CIA spook William Harper, who recruits Jack as a financial intelligence analyst on Wall Street. Things go swimmingly for years (though Jack can’t tell Cathy what he really does for a living), until Jack uncovers some hidden files that indicate the Russians are engaging in widespread monetary manipulations that could result in “the second great American depression,” as Jack puts it to Harper — but only after a terrorist attack somewhere on U.S. soil sets the stage for the financial crash.
Time for Jack to go operational. Even as his fiancee Cathy wonders if he’s having an affair — he’s certainly hiding something — Jack’s on his way to Moscow, with Harper and a team of field veterans somehow managing to make their way into the country and set up surveillance vans, rent a warehouse, hire clean-up crews, etc., etc., without drawing the attention of any Russian authorities or spies. Nice work! (Harper even enlists the services of a local dog for an evening so he’ll blend in.)
Once Jack is in Russia, the first attempt on his life makes no sense. None. It’s loud and traceable and heavy-handed and just plain clumsy. I’ll just leave it at that. It’s as if we’ve taken a quick detour into a “Taken” movie.
After that, the return to sophisticated-thriller mode doesn’t quite fly, though the Moscow scenes are gorgeous and the stunt work and special effects are first-rate throughout.
In addition to his directing duties, Branagh sinks his teeth into the role of Viktor Cheverin, the brilliant and ruthless mastermind behind the whole “collapse the American economy” scheme. We know Viktor’s a really bad guy because he kicks the crap out of underlings who can’t perform their duties, has a Scorpion tattoo, works out of an insanely spacious office where the only artwork is an enormous painting of Napoleon at Waterloo and delights in going on and on about how he’s going to kill the heroine, instead of just doing it.
When Viktor meets Ryan for the first time and they’re pretending they don’t know each other’s true motives, he says, “You Americans like to think of yourselves as direct. Perhaps you are just rude.” Game on!
Though directed with great precision by Branagh, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is saddled with a boilerplate script. The main set piece, in which Cathy volunteers to flirt with the notoriously womanizing Viktor as a diversion while a supposedly drunk Jack “goes for a walk” but is in reality tasked with breaking into Viktor’s fortress of an office to download a boatload of files, is just ridiculous. All of a sudden we’re mired in a story that depends on pickpockets bumping into people and stealing their wallets, elevator doors closing just in time, people turning away from security screens at the exact right (or wrong) moment, and really smart individuals doing really dumb things.
This is the very definition of an OK thriller. We expect more than that from Jack Ryan.