REVIEW: JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

★ ★ ★

Who exactly is Jack Reacher? If you are a reader, he’s the protagonist of twenty books by British author Lee Child. If you’re a moviegoer, he’s a bone crunching former Major in the United States Army Military Police Corps who looks a lot like Tom Cruise. According to the new movie “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” he’s “the guy you didn't count on.”

When we first see Reacher it’s four years after his exploits in his eponymous debut film. With the help of Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) he has just broken up—and beaten up—a ring of smugglers. When he arrives in Washington to thank her, and possibly wine and dine her, he is shocked to discover she's been court-martialled, accused of espionage. His efforts to get to the bottom of the case suggest she was arrested because she had a hard drive with sensitive info. “What did you expect,” he’s asked, “a picture of her in a Burka and having drinks with the Taliban?” After a daring prison break, he and Turner hit the road, trading quips and punching faces with a deadly ex-military hit man (Patrick Heusinger) hot on their trail. Their efforts to clear her name and uncover a far-reaching conspiracy are complicated by the presence of Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a fifteen year old who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter.

The addition of a kid changes the dynamic of the film. The first Reacher movie was a fun but violent ride, designed to keep fans of Cruise’s actionman persona happy until the next “Mission Impossible” instalment came along. It was an old fashioned movie, the kind of flick that Steven Seagal might have starred in circa 1992. It was a bare-bones action movie and predictable but Van Dammit, taken for what it was, it was also a bit of fun.

The new one delivers much of what we expect—the Statham-esque levels of hand-to-hand kick assery and the Tom Cruise Run©, hands extended, arms akimbo, are present—but this is a kinder, gentler Reacher. He’s still a violent animal who can kill you in three hundred different ways, but he’s more human now. At least he’s not a total monster, even while he’s snapping someone’s spine.

The movie rips along at a fast pace, bareknuckling its way through the story at a breakneck pace. Cruise and Smulders are sort of a Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a deadly duo who never allow romance to get in the way of their appetite for bodily destruction. Their relationship is a mix of “Roadhouse” style fighting and cutesy rom com dialogue.

It all adds up to an action movie for those who like a dose of sentimentality with their spinal injuries.