By Chaz Lipp
Why did Paramount resurrect Tom Clancy’s CIA agent character Jack Ryan, central character in four previous blockbusters, only to dump the movie in January with little fanfare? Because it sucks, that’s why. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is destined to become the first flop of the franchise. Good luck trying to turn this turkey into a new franchise. Too bad, because the talent was on board. Kenneth Branagh, fresh from his commercial victory with Thor, directed and co-stars as mastermind Russian villain Viktor Cherevin. In the title role, Chris Pine (aka Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek films) steps into shoes once filled by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford (twice), and Ben Affleck. Kevin Costner, in the midst of career resurgence, is Ryan’s boss and mentor Thomas Harper. Seems like a recipe for success.
So why does Shadow Recruit miss the mark? Because it seems cobbled together from many sources, without ever feeling like a Tom Clancy thriller. This one wasn’t even based on a Clancy novel, having begun life as a standalone, unrelated screenplay. During a troubled, prolonged pre-production period it morphed into a Jack Ryan reboot. But it still feels like a warmed-over combination of elements borrowed from Mission: Impossible and the James Bond franchise. If it weren’t for the big names and a few technically impressive action set pieces, this emotionless, illogical time-passer would’ve probably gone straight to video.
To be fair, it gets off to a decent start and is never less than watchable (even though its plot turns will likely have you shaking your head and rolling your eyes). We meet young Jack (Pine) over a decade ago, when 9/11 spurs him to join the Marines. A horrific accident results in a spinal injury followed by a long physical therapy period, during which he’s assisted by Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) – who later becomes Dr. Muller (and Jack’s fiancé). CIA agent Harper (Costner) sees grit and determination in Jack and recruits him. Soon Jack is an undercover operative working on Wall Street, monitoring international finance for any signs of impending terrorism via the stock market.
Suspiciously hidden accounts lead him to Russia and Cherevin (Branagh), who plans to crash the U.S. dollar while simultaneously executing a massive terrorist strike. Cathy, unaware of Jack’s CIA affiliation, worries that her man is stepping out behind her back. She flies out to Russia to see what Jack’s up to for herself and, in the film’s most implausible turn, becomes an impromptu operative at Harper’s insistence, despite her total lack of training in such work. Before long, she’s sexily coming on to Cherevin while Jack plays Ethan Hunt. Frankly, even Jack has no business doing such dangerous spy work, given his near-paralyzing injury (which is conveniently ignored to the point where it’s like it never happened) and lack of field training. “You’re a Marine,” Harper tells him. Well yeah… very briefly and many years before.
The cast is likeable and the whole thing is over in an hour and 45 minutes. The relatively brisk running time is a blessing and a curse. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn’t wear out its welcome, but it also feels like it’s missing large chunks of plot and character development. It grinds along like a piece of machinery, therefore it’s missing the heart that made the Harrison Ford outings so endearing (Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger). Tom Clancy sadly passed away October 1, 2013. The new film could’ve been a fitting a tribute. Instead, by bypassing his entire series of Jack Ryan novels, it winds up feeling like a piece of tacky fan fiction.