“Generic cliché” are the words best used to describe this latest incarnation of Jack Ryan, the Tom Clancy character whose shoes have previously been filled by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck. This go round it’s strictly a paint-by-numbers, Russian-baddie script by Adam Cozad and David Koepp that has the eponymous CIA analyst in an origins story that begins with 9/11, sputters to a quick war hero episode in Afghanistan, then settles in with Jack’s brainy, daring-do antics saving the day as a Soviet power lord schemes up a death of America and financial destruction scenario.
Ryan, who first appeared on screen in 1990’s thrilling “The Hunt for Red October,” would see Alec Baldwin replaced by Harrison Ford two and four years later with “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger.” One hiatus later came the frightening “The Sum of All Fears” (2002) with Affleck thwarting a U.S.-Sino terrorist plan that has a nuclear bomb detonate in Baltimore. Yet Jack’s handler, Paramount Pictures, decided to bring the lad out of a 12-year retirement and shoehorn one of it’s other tentpole stars, Chris Pine a.k.a. Captain James T. Kirk, into the lead as Clancy’s updated hero.
I adored Pine in the marvelous “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” reboots. Cocky, funny, perfect. God bless J. J. Abrams and his talented cast and crew. Meanwhile, triple threat Kenneth Branagh (actor, director, producer) brings two of those talents to “Shadow Recruit.” He picks up the megaphone after last hammering out, exceedingly well, Paramount’s “Thor” (2011), and then receiving an Oscar nom playing Sir Laurence Olivier in the dreamy “My Week With Marilyn” a couple of years ago. Yet lightning doesn’t strike again this time, whether he’s in front of or behind the camera. His Viktor Cheverin is a none-too-subtle yet overly stereotypical excuse of a human being. That’s more the fault of the writers, I suspect. His direction, very competent and nice looking (thanks to cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and production designer Andrew Laws), is still too basic to deliver a well-liked blockbuster. Hence a January release.
Instructions to Keira Knightly: please gain some weight and find another pirate movie. She’s got a decent American accent now but merely runs interference through her current effort as Ryan’s main squeeze. Kevin Costner is aboard as CIA recruiter Thomas Harper, the man who sees Ryan’s potential as an analyst/operative and a box office hopeful worthy of megastar action hero status.
Eleven months ago American were suffering a Moscow-themed fate worse than “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” It was called “A Good Day to Die Hard.” If you’re going to resurrect the likes of John McClane or Jack Ryan, it might be wise to put a few more bucks and minutes into developing a decent story.