Jack Reacher, the ex-military loner created by novelist Lee Child, has an enviable skill. He can break limbs with ease and punch through a car window, but Reacher’s most impressive ability — the one that made audiences fall in love with him in 2012’s “Jack Reacher” — is the way he can tell his poor dumb attackers exactly what they’ll do next. And of course, they do it anyway. We all wish our real-world confrontations ended with our enemies writhing at our feet, and it’s the main reason “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is such an enjoyable Hollywood fantasy.
Well, that and Tom Cruise, who returns as Reacher, the all-American samurai who wanders the country righting wrongs. In the first film, written and directed with a knowing wink by Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), Cruise’s Reacher seemed a little more smug than necessary. Here, under the straight-ahead direction of Edward Zwick (an old Hollywood hand whose credits range from “Glory” to “Blood Diamond”), Cruise’s Reacher is all business, with just a hint of anger. Few actors could play such a cardboard role with absolute conviction, and Cruise tops the list.
“Never Go Back,” whose title only sounds meaningful, sets up its rudimentary plot with efficiency, introducing us to Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), a do-gooder framed for espionage. Though she and Reacher barely know each other, he’s convinced of her innocence and breaks her out of a military prison in a snappy sequence full of swift takedowns and quick disguises. The two go on the lam, tailed by a grinning, nameless assassin (a very good Patrick Heusinger). Meanwhile, a troubled teen, Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who just might be Reacher’s daughter, lands in the middle of the action with a thud. Still, she serves an important purpose: She gives our hero an emotional attachment that’s worth fighting for.
“Never Go Back” is so corny and predictable that it’s actually rather comforting. Cruise, at 54, remains a movie star through and through, as iconic as ever in his white T-shirt and well-worn jeans. We last see him in that classic outfit, hitchhiking down a lonesome highway to his next adventure, just as we knew we would.