For all of its flaws, and there are too many to count, at least Ben Affleck’s “Sum of All Fears” (2002) felt like a Jack Ryan movie and even managed to become something of its own with the explosion of a nuke on American soil. Ten-plus years later, Paramount’s attempt to reboot the franchise (for the second time) doesn’t even accomplish that.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” not only fails to feel like a Jack Ryan movie, what it really feels like is made-for-TV version of a Jason Bourne film.
Chris Pine steps into the role of heroic CIA analyst Jack Ryan in an origin story that opens in 2001 with Ryan studying for his PHD in London when the Twin Towers are hit. Driven to serve his country, Ryan joins the Marines and serves in Afghanistan until he is horribly injured in a helicopter crash. While in rehabilitation at Walter Reed, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) recruits the young man who will eventually become his protégé at the CIA.
We then jump 10 years to present day and find Ryan working undercover on Wall Street. His cover is as a compliance officer for a major brokerage firm but what he’s really looking for is terrorist financing. What he finds instead is a Russian plot to destroy the American economy.
The story is just silly and also lacks in the dramatic and complicated geopolitics that made the first three Ryan films so intelligent and involving. Worse still, almost every problem is solved way-way-way too easily using computers. On the human side, the central relationship between Ryan and his fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightely — terrible as usual) starts out fine but quickly gets ridiculous as she becomes part of the action in a way that strains credibility beyond the beyond.
In fact, most of the story strains credibility. Kenneth Branagh (who directed and performs with a killer Russian accent) is our villain Viktor Cherevin. Cherevin knows Ryan is CIA but still agrees to go to dinner with him just hours before he intends to press a button that will drop America into an economic depression (and no, the button is not the deciding vote to re-elect Barack Obama).
I don’t want to spoil any plot points, but the dinner scene is ridiculous and even embarrassing to watch. Apparently we are supposed to believe Cherevin’s penis can turn him into a complete moron who can be easily pick-pocketed and distracted without suspicion. On top of that, his super-high security building and computer (that hold all the secrets to The Central Plot) are easier to break into than my local Walmart.
The climax is so anti-climactic I was shocked when the movie ended.
“Is that all there is,” I asked?
“Be grateful,” my wife said.
Branagh, who has shown some serious visual flair in other films he’s directed (“Henry V” (1989), “Frankenstein” (1994), “Hamlet” (1996)), brings nothing to the table. Even with Moscow at his disposal, Branagh fails to exploit the location into something interesting much less a character of its own.
Costner, an actor I very much like, especially as he grizzles with age, is completely let down by a script (co-written by the otherwise reliable David Koepp) that feels like it checked off the necessary boxes required to craft a thriller before a money man said, “good enough!”
As Ryan, Pine is physically up to the job but has the same problem Affleck did. Jack Ryan is supposed to be the smartest guy in the room — one step ahead of everyone else. It is Ryan’s intellect, after all, that takes him out of a cubicle and on to the radar of American presidents. Unlike Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, Pine and Affleck just don’t radiate that kind of intelligence. In an over-acted, over-directed, and over-written scene that takes place on an airplane, as you watch Pine put the pieces together, you just don’t buy it (again, the script doesn’t help).
Pine and Affleck might be Rhodes Scholars in real life. I’m not knocking the intelligence of either man. That doesn’t mean, though, that as actors they can project that intelligence in the same way a Laura Linney or David Strathairn does by doing nothing more than showing up.
I love this franchise and “Shadow Recruit” even gives us a hero driven by patriotism and selflessness. Paramount needs to try again but with “A Clear and Present Danger” as a blueprint, not Jason Bourne.
And cast Liev Schreiber as Jack Ryan already.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is available in Digital HD May 20 and for sale on Bluray June 10.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC