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Jack Reacher is ridiculous…and exciting…and funny…and cheesy. It’s also a great vehicle for Tom Cruise, even though readers of Lee Child’s best-selling novels are complaining that he doesn’t resemble the author’s description of that character. Too bad: this is a Hollywood movie and it suits Cruise’s current screen persona to a T.          

Jack Reacher is an elusive crime-fighter, an ex-military cop who, we learn, was reprimanded for breaking the rules. In civilian life he’s made himself a ghost, impossible to find and just as difficult to trace. But when a sniper who killed six innocent people in Pittsburgh pleads with his lawyer to “Get Jack Reacher” and the mystery man suddenly shows up, unbidden, you recognize that you’re dealing with a character who is larger than life.

Cruise may not be six-feet-two, but he’s believable as a tough guy who can take down brawny opponents in a street fight. He’s also smart enough to realize when a situation is too good to be true. One cannot say the same for the crusading attorney played by Rosamund Pike, a good actress whose actions and reactions add to the movie’s cheese factor—and whose beauty is almost distracting at times. Robert Duvall turns up toward the climax of the story as a good ol’ boy who becomes the hero’s unlikely ally. He may not be terribly believable, but at least he’s fun to watch.

I wish I could say the same for the notorious filmmaker Werner Herzog, who is cast here as a shadowy villain. He has one juicy speech in his initial scene but past that, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie seems unable to unleash the very qualities that make Herzog so magnetic in real life. Not everyone, it seems, is a natural in front of the camera.

McQuarrie seems content to allow his lengthy action thriller to hopscotch from a suspense scene to a moment of unexpected comedy and back again. There is one nail-biting car chase, inventively staged and cut, and strikingly photographed by Caleb Deschanel. And thereare some good laughs, some of them intentional. Jack Reacher is a loose cannon of a movie, entertaining overall if wildly inconsistent.

In an unfortunate reminder of real life, the movie opens with a sniper mowing down innocent people. Once you get past that sequence, the film’s escapist tone takes us away from reality as so many Hollywood movies do. Thank goodness for that.

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