By Gary Dowell
The first truly mediocre movie of 2014 has arrived.
A well-meaning attempt to reboot the Jack Ryan franchise (if it can seriously be called that), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a surprisingly, disappointingly tepid thriller that succumbs to the same fatal flaw that sank Swordfish and its ilk: computer crime doesn’t make for great action cinema. So much of Shadow Recruit involves keyboards, monitors, and tablets that it feels less like a spy flick and more like an ad for the Apple Store.
Chris Pine inherits the role of the late novelist Tom Clancy’s intrepid CIA analyst, previously played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck to much acclaim (except maybe for Affleck), and he’s a good choice. His steely blue-eyed stare and natural charisma are ideal for the selfless all-American brains-and-brawn heroics associated with the character. The material wastes his talents, though.
Clancy’s novels featuring Ryan are outdated at best; screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp turn in an origin story designed to reboot the character for modern era that isn’t based directly on one of Clancy’s bestsellers but does borrow and pay homage to them. Ryan is now a student at the London School of Economics who enlists in the Marines after 9/11, briefly displaying an early knack for intelligence work before his helicopter is shot down over Afghanistan.
Recovering from a broken back at Walter Reed Medical Center, Ryan meets Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), the woman destined to become his wife, and Naval Cmdr. William Harper (Kevin Costner), the man who recruits into the CIA as an undercover analyst tracking the movements of terrorist money.
The movie quickly starts to fall apart here, during its flabby middle section, as Ryan is sent to Moscow to audit (yes, you read that correctly) the finances of a shady Russian businessman, Viktor Cherevein (Kenneth Branagh, doing double duty as the film’s director). Cathy is unsettled by Ryan’s behavior (and is half-convinced he’s cheating) enough to follow and confront him, only to be pressed into service for a Mission:Impossible Lite sting by Ryan and his handlers, which of course goes sideways so that action sequences can be haphazardly worked into the loping plot. Cue the prerequisite shoot-outs, car chases, and ticking-clock bomb disposals.
The villainous plot, best described as financial terrorism, is a topical and meaty one, but it goes nowhere here as Gozad and Koepp don’t put it into much of a context. Though he makes for a coolly menacing bad guy, Branagh leads us as a director here; the pacing is choppy and the ever-important action sequences — the ones that don’t involve hacking and transferring data, that is — are bizarrely and confusingly edited. It all adds up to a lack of substance that is disappointingly generic.