Tom Cruise wanders through Jack Reacher: Never Go Back like a man in search of a better movie. Or at least a better character. Cruise’s strengths as a screen actor—his easy warmth and cheerful spirit—get no outlet here. As in his last Reacher film—likewise based on one of Lee Child’s never-ending series of interchangeable tough-guy novels—Cruise is stuck playing a man who’s not a lot more than a cipher. He’s a hard-boiled guy traveling aimlessly around the country by bus and thumb. A toothbrush is his only luggage. He fuels up in cheap diners and pancake joints. His preferred mode of communication is a punch in the face.
There’s not much to play here, and Cruise is reduced to characterizing Reacher mostly via clenched jaw and distracting facial tics. Worse yet, he’s been lumbered with a story about family and feelings—which is not and never will be Reacher’s thing. This incomprehension results in Cruise and his costar, Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill in the Avengers movies), being trapped in more poky reaction shots than any movie of this sort should have to sustain, allowing a teenage girl—likable wisecracker Danika Yarosh—to sidle away with the film, writes Kurt Loder.