RECAP: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016): Edward Zwick

Jack Reacher goes forward through a ton of bad dudes to investigate some crimes and stuff. There’s a woman imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit. There’s a possible daughter situation. You get the idea.

Edward Zwick comes onboard to direct a tightly portrayed character-based thriller, not at all like his epic period pieces such as The Last Samurai (also starring Tom Cruise), Glory, or Defiance.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Jack Reacher defends a colleague for a crime she didn’t commit, and both of them protect a teenage girl for some reason. 

Hero (5/10)

Tom Cruise is back as Jack Reacher, drifter and defender of justice extraordinaire. This film opens on Reacher at the end of another case. He sits inside a diner, waiting for the sheriff to arrest him for beating up four guys strewn about the parking lot.

Jack makes friends with enemies.
Jack making friends with enemies.

When the sheriff arrests him, Reacher says, “Two things are going to happen.” First, the payphone will ring, and second, the sheriff “will be wearing these cuffs.” Lo and behold, Reacher’s right. The sheriff, and the four guys Reacher left beaten in the diner’s parking lot, were running a human trafficking ring. Somehow that fell under the military police’s jurisdiction, so Reacher got involved.

After Reacher hitchhikes, bloodily, to his next town, he speaks on the phone with Major Turner (Cobie Smulders). They flirt and agree to a dinner date whenever Reacher comes to Washington.

He soon does, only to find that Turner has been relieved of command, charged with espionage. The officer in charge, Colonel Morgan, treats the case like it happens all the time in the Army.

Reacher, always wrapped up in bad cases, believes Turner is innocent. No, they’ve never met, but he had a hard on for Turner, and Reacher’s hard ons are never wrong. It’s not long before Reacher finds himself arrested and lands in the same maximum security facility as Turner.

A tense scene shows Reacher’s escape from the facility. He believes that Turner’s life is in jeopardy and that she’ll be killed inside the prison unless he stops it. Jack begins Reacher Mode.

The film takes care to show that every square inch outside the cells are monitored. Reacher spots Turner on a monitor (but he’s never met her, so I don’t know how he recognized her). From his conference room with his lawyer he spots two Parasource goons, guys who were following him, enter the prison.

Reacher asks for Espin (Aldis Hodge), the man who arrested him, to take him to his cell. Reacher knocks out Espin and takes his uniform. He walks to Turner’s cell and, with Turner’s help, beats up the two goons and a uniformed guard.

Slowly the pair escape the prison. They appear to flee the grounds on the back of a food truck, but elude the MPs by stealing another vehicle.

Sideplot: Reacher has a daughter. If you planned on a tale of military corruption and international weapons and drug smuggling, you weren’t prepared for the family drama occupying the middle half of Never Go Back.

A woman sued Reacher for paternity of her 15-year-old daughter, Samantha. Reacher rejects the claim, but he’s drawn to Samantha anyway. He follows her to a mom-and-pop store, where he watches her steal and is caught following her. The parallels between the two characters are easy to see.

Never Go Back tries to ground Reacher as a father figure. Cruise is good at it because he’s good at anything, but should Reacher be this guy? I wasn’t buying the hard sell.

Reacher brings drink palates to the women in his partnership three times. He knows Turner’s clothing size. They fight about parenting roles. They tell their “daughter” that leaving the hotel is “stupid.” Reacher and Turner even drop her off at boarding school. How much more domestic can a military espionage thriller get?

Villain (1/10)

Patrick Heusinger plays a hired assassin known as The Hunter. He never gets a name in the film, it’s just how he’s credited.

The Hunter drives a Maserati during all his hit jobs, because the Maserati is the common man’s car and doesn’t draw attention (eye roll). He appears to be a freelance hire of Parasource, the company that Reacher and crew end up fighting.

The Hunter is like all hired guns in these movies, ruthless and without limits. Early in the film he kidnaps Turner’s lead attorney to beat information out of him, and to death. He likes that kind of thing.

Later, after fighting with Reacher and Turner in a Washington restaurant, he’s caught by two cops. He yells at them that he’s an MP while slowly backing toward them. Suddenly he grabs the gun and kills both in a flash. All with a grin on his face.

The Hunter. If he gets too excited he might shoot off his Uzi.
The Hunter. If he gets too excited he might shoot off his Uzi.

Hunter’s problem is his enthusiasm. He learns more about Reacher during the course of the film, and he learns to like him. Hunter’s boss tells him not to make it personal. Too late. Hunter’s decided to let Reacher be his measuring stick, to see if he can last in the big leagues.

He’s too overeager about the whole venture, like this is his first assignment and you can tell he’s investing too much into it. Nobody wants to see that level of enthusiasm in murder work.

With Moorcroft the lawyer in his clutches, he’s enthusiastic to beat him to death, telling him he’ll soon discover how long ten minutes can be. All this for giving Reacher some information on the case.

My favorite scene with Hunter occurs when he visits the colonel who replaced Turner. Col. Morgan barks at Hunter, that he should be “out there” and “doing your job” and such things, not at Morgan’s home accosting him.

Morgan has just divulged some key information to Turner and Reacher, and Hunter knows he did so. Hunter is trying to make himself at home, snacking on some table nuts and sitting in an easy chair. He even picks up a golf magazine and flips through it.

The effort reeks of amateur. Hunter’s trying to make his visit seem friendly and menacing at the same time. He’s going through the motions quickly, as if he was a high school actor who memorized his lines but is so nervous that he spits them out as fast as possible to get through the whole production. Then Hunter beats the colonel to death with a phone Reacher touched.

Hunter decides to make his fight with Reacher personal by threatening Samantha. He goes to her house and girls her foster parents but missing her. That’s right, the big, bad assassin in the Maserati lets a fifteen-year-old girl outwit him.

But Hunter was not hired for charm, wit, or personal car selection. He was hired to kill. How did he do? He murders two cops, two foster parents, a lawyer, and one of his bosses. Turner? No. Reacher. HA. In his final tussle with Reacher, he lasts a few minutes, but his eagerness to defeat Reacher, a man who probably doesn’t give a single damn about him, proves his downfall.

Action/Effects (4/10)

One explosive action scene marks Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Reacher and Turner alert Espin, the MP tracking them, that they discovered a witness to Parasource malfeasance/murder. His name is Daniel Prudhomme, a former colleague of The Hunter and current heroin junkie.

Prudhomme allows Espin to take him into custody from his hiding place at an abandoned wharf in New Orleans. Parasource has ears everywhere, and they learn where Espin is headed as he tells people where he’s headed. He should have shut up about it, but didn’t.

When Espin walks Prudhomme to the former’s car, Parasource goons shoot Prudhomme dead. They also shoot Espin and his car tires out, but he lives and calls in the attack.

Reacher and Turner watch from surrounding rooftops; they don’t want Espin to try to arrest them as well. Reacher spots the first shooter. He leaps from the roof and lands onto the guy, taking his gun and beating him with it.

Rat-tat-tat-tat, Reacher never hesitates to put a bad guy on his back.
Rat-tat-tat-tat, Reacher never hesitates to put a bad guy on his back.

But there’s a second guy who now shoots at Reacher, who has taken cover behind Espin’s car with Espin and Prudhomme’s dead body. This second shooter is amongst large barrels.

Large barrels in movies are always filled with explosive liquids, and you can bet that after a few shots at one, it explodes, taking several other barrels and one Parasource employee with it.

Now Turner gets in the mix. She runs (not jumps) downstairs to aid Reacher, whose gun has emptied. A handgun rests on the asphalt in the open between Reacher and Turner. But remember that third and final Parasource hired gun.

The assassin calmly walks toward his pinned down prey. Reacher has found a detachable headlamp. He pops up and blinds the guy long enough for Turner to get the handgun and kill him.

A tight scene with some explosive action. We could have done with more of this and less teenage blathering.

Sidekicks (3/8)

Now’s the time to discuss Major Turner. Cobie Smulders puts in a game effort opposite Cruise. Turner is a 10-year vet who excels at her job, but some soldiers died on her watch, and she’s taking the fall for it.

It ain’t fair, but that’s the US Army for you, chock full of corrupt overlords. At least that’s what I learn from Jack Reacher movies. Turner, with Reacher’s help, escapes military prison for a life on the run.

Cobie Smulders listening to acting advice from Brigadier General Tom Cruise.
Cobie Smulders listening to acting advice from Brigadier General Tom Cruise.

Reacher is used to a life on the lam, but it’s new for Turner. She adjusts well, able to match Reacher in quick, reactive thinking and fighting.

Turner is the one who finds a safe house for young Samantha, sending her to the boarding school that saved Turner’s life back when she was a mouthy teen.

Unfortunately for Turner, she’s strong-armed into watching the girl. She and Reacher literally argue about who should stay behind and protect her. Reacher wins, because he’s the man and the men aren’t capable.

Reacher’s way of apologizing is to ask Turner if she got mad, “because I treated you like a woman, or because I treated you like a man?” I’m not sure how you treated her like a man, Reacher. I think she was just pissed to watch the girl. YOU got her involved in this mess, Jack.

Danika Yarosh plays Samantha, a 15-year-old girl mixed up in Reacher’s business because she might be his daughter. Samantha asked her mother to file a paternity suit against the Army, naming Reacher as her father, to extract money from the government and try to get her life back on track.

Reacher hears about this and finds Samantha. He follows her to a mom and pop store and catches her stealing. Samantha catches Reacher following her, echoing his statement earlier to his tails, “I don’t like being followed.”

Danika Yarosh plays Samantha in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Danika Yarosh plays Samantha in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

The Hunter threatens Samantha’s life, triggering a visit to her apartment by Reacher and Turner. The girl’s foster parents are murdered, but Samantha survived by feigning her escape and hiding in the kitchen.

What follows is a good 45 to 60 minutes of forced parent-child relationships. Reacher and Turner chaperone the kid. All three are in great danger, but Samantha doesn’t seem to realize it.

That’s right. Her foster parents were murdered while she had to hide in a cabinet, but when Reacher and Turner impress on her that she’s in danger, she rolls her eyes.

The pair take her clothes shopping and find her a school uniform. Samantha is all, “Ew, I’m not wearing that.” Reacher pulls her aside and asks a simple question. “Do you want to live?” Samantha answers like: whatever I guess.

They take her to a boarding school to hide. This school has plein-air art classes that make Samantha’s mouth water. She still mucks it up by texting on a cell phone she claimed she didn’t have. The Parasource bad guys can trace those, don’t you know, and the trio flees the school immediately. In a shot that will satisfy dads across America, Reacher throws the phone from the car. It breaks into several pieces.

Samantha steals a bunch of credit cards that come in useful to get to New Orleans, home of Parasource headquarters and generous film tax credits. Samantha is forced to endure the horrors of a beautiful French Quarter hotel room with a balcony overlooking a Halloween parade. Yes, there’s TV. No, it’s not good enough.

Samantha leaves the hotel to help out the case. Reacher is forced to say things to her like, “That was really stupid.” later she orders room service with a stolen credit card, tipping off her hunters. To be fair, how can a military contractor trace stolen credit cards in real time?

Yarosh performs her role of plucky, lone-wolf teen well. She’s hormonal and rude to her “parents” as the audience expects. My qualms with her character lie with the director and screenwriter for crafting a typical teen-parent conflict drama inside a life-or-death struggle.

Hat tip to Hodge as Espin, the MP charged with arresting Reacher and Turner. (I’m still trying to figure out if his character’s name was a nod to ESPN somehow.) Espin channels his inner Tommy Lee Jones chasing pair. He tells an underling that he wants to know someone’s favorite ice cream flavor and know it yesterday.

Espin is skilled at barking orders, but doing useful things? Maybe not. Reacher knocks him out inside a prison, he’s pick-pocketed in the French Quarter moments after arriving there, and the case’s star witness is shot dead moments after falling into Espin’s custody.

Espin reminds me of Jim Belushi’s character from Red Heat. Both are wise-cracking cops who don’t know they are bad at their jobs.

Smulders was solid as Turner, matching scenes with Cruise, but Samantha’s and Espin’s characters were unwelcome for being unnecessary and over-the-top. They dragged the score down.

Henchmen (0/8)

The Hunter enlists many aids to track Reacher and Turner. He doesn’t care about them much, and neither should we. Two guys that Reacher knocks out/kills, on an airplane, Hunter refers to as “the B team.”

Early in the film Reacher is followed by two henchman that discuss a new gun one has purchased that makes his “hands look big.” I don’t think this was a dig at Donald Trump, but with the movie arriving in theaters days before the 2016 election, how could I see it any other way? Reacher breaks their car window with a salt shaker and knocks out the driver. Later, in the military prison, Reacher knocks them out again. A rare double-beating of a nameless goon.

All these guys are fodder for Reacher to defeat. At least in the first Reacher film, some of the goons had backstory. Each man in Never Go Back is eager to fight Reacher, thinking it will be a cinch. It’s as if they are all trying to impress the gang leader with how brave and strong they are, but the gang leader is bored and has other things on his mind, like how to raise a child.

Stunts (2/6)

Fight scenes in Never Go Back are brief.

On the ground in New Orleans, Reacher is chased through town by four hired thugs. Hired thugs are easy to find for nefarious companies. I always wonder how these things go down. Is the criminal underground all about “I know a guy.”

These four guys that someone in Parasource knew make no bones about tailing Reacher. Reacher, walking, turns down an alley and sighs as he kicks in a door to an abandoned warehouse.

As the four guys encircle Reacher, Reacher says, “You followed me in here. That was a mistake.” The lead guy produces a gun that cause Reacher to roll his eyes teenager style. His maybe-daughter is rubbing off on him.

The Bully Beatdown
The Bully Beatdown

Reacher takes out the first guy by throwing a chain hook in his face. A shot rings out. The other guys look around confusedly. Reacher attacks another one, intercepts a kick, throws a guy into another and through a wall.

Reacher steals a gun from one and shoots two baddies with the gun upside down, in the manner The Hunter shot the capital police.

Before you think it’s over, The Hunter pops out from behind a wall to shoot at Reacher. He’s not there to kill him, just to tell him that he’s going to murder his daughter first, and enjoy it, of course.

Reacher never uses weapons in fights, Turner always does. In the D.C. cafe she swings a mallet at her enemy. She uses a purloined baton to knock out some prison guards. Hand weapons help even the score between the lithe Turner and professional assassins.

Like in Jack Reacher, the fights in the sequel eschew brutality and repetition for devastating blows. They don’t last long. One or two strikes is enough to down anyone (except the main characters, of course, who can endure nearly anything.)

Climax (2/6)

Reacher and Turner, having won the trust of the military police, storm Parasource headquarters, where employees are busy unloading a cargo plane full of weapons crates. Turner takes charge, despite still being wanted for treason and lesser crimes. She asks Parasource head General Harkness, apparently some bigwig, what’s in the crates.

Rocket launchers. Oh yeah, Turner sort of says, why don’t you show what’s in the crates? Harkness is like, “Why not?” And they start opening the crates to reveal…rocket launchers. In all the crates. Everything is above board. The MPs are about to get Turner out of everyone’s sight.

Reacher, though, is still thinking. It still doesn’t add up. How does a company in debt ten figures pay off debts in a snap? Reacher opens another crate. Still rocket launchers, but he picks one up and jams it on the ground. Out tumble several bags of pure opium. NOW it adds up.

Harkness becomes the second person arrested after it seemed Reacher would be the guy arrested. Everything is wrapped up in a neat little package.

Except not. Reacher gets a call from Samantha. Remember how they paid for the New Orleans hotel room in cash? To order room service, Samantha uses one of the stolen credit cards to get some food. Somehow, Parasource has a team of people working a bank of computers that can instantly “get a hit” on marked credit cards.

Chase can do this. Discover can do this. Parasource can also do this? No way. Totally implausible. Anyway, Parasource’s boss sends The Hunter to snatch the girl. When he arrives in the lobby with two other guys, Samantha phones Reacher at the tarmac. She’s in trouble, of course.

Great Tom Cruise costume
Great Tom Cruise costume

Samantha starts an extended game of cat-and-mouse through New Orleans on its third-biggest night of the year, Halloween. (The other two being Mardi Gras and whatever major sports event at the Superdome.) She can’t fight these bad guys, so she has to run and hide.

Samantha hides in a float until someone spots her. Reacher calls The Hunter and tells him that he’s excited and that he’ll “break your arms, then I’ll break your legs, then I’ll break your neck.” Something like that.

More running and chasing. The best moment occurs in a hotel’s back garden. Turner catches up with one of the goons who’s grabbed Samantha. She attacks him with a rake and takes a couple blows. She hits the wall and crumples.

There’s a garden hose beside Turner, which she uses to slap into the bad guy’s face. She wraps the hose around his neck and drives her shoulder into his back. Using his weight against him, Turner chokes the life out of him, kneeing him in the back for the final blow.

Samantha is still running, this time across the rooftops, as the parade’s fireworks start up. (Go ahead and insert a firework joke here.) Turner follows onto the roof, but is shot at by The Hunter’s other helper. Reacher joins the fray, sneaking behind the shooter and kicking him into the gap between two buildings.

That leaves The Hunter. He grabs Samantha and holds her over the edge. Shoot him and she’ll die. Reacher has a gun on The Hunter, until he’s convinced to put it down. As Reacher ever so slowly places the gun on the ground he tells Samantha that they are all “dead already.”

I GET IT. I know what’s going to happen! I didn’t see it coming. Samantha uses the one fight move that Turner taught her, grabbing the gun and taking it from him. Reacher takes the cue and tackles The Hunter off the roof and onto another one a level below.

They’re winded. For a long time. Falls will do that to you. The Hunter is the first to recover, delivering four straight blows before Reacher can retaliate. That should have finished Reacher, but nothing finishes Reacher.

Jack fights back. It’s close quarters in the French Quarter. The vines creeping up the building’s walls watch as the two men strike each other slowly. The Hunter finds a pipe and takes a huge World Series swing. Reacher blocks the swinging arm and gives him a pop-pop in the torso.

Reacher cracks The Hunter in the back. The villain leans back. “Look at me,” Reacher commands. The Hunter’s eyes are clouded black, it seems, as if he will explode in blood at any moment. Reacher delivers the final blow and throws his nemesis off the balcony.

Jokes (2/4)

Jack Reacher 2 manages to retain that ribald humor the series is known for (wink wink).

Hey look it's Lee Child
Hey look it’s Lee Child!

Setting (2/4)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back spilts its time between our nation’s political capital and our nation’s francois party capital.

Washington D.C.’s landscape we know like the back of our national hand. Perhaps only Lower Manhattan’s layout is more well known. Never Go Back has Reacher and Turner run across the city to escape MPs and The Hunter. That’s acres of grassland to cover.

Later the heroic troupe travels to New Orleans. Cinematically, the Big Easy exists as the French Quarter, the Superdome in establishing shots, and that’s it. Never Go Back is little different. The dramatis personae run and dash through a Halloween parade that outdoes those of most other cities, but probably barely scrapes the top five of New Orleans parades.

Don’t forget abandoned warehouses. What would action films be without abandoned warehouses? New Orleans appears chock full of them.

Commentary (0/2)

Parasource, weapons dealer and Pentagon contractor, delves into debt, paying it off importing pure opium into the States.

Setting aside the ethics of drug running, let’s commend Parasource for not resorting to bailouts or debt restructuring when faced with financial ruin. American prosperity at its finest!

This movie tells a tale about America overextending itself in the Afghanistan/Iraq wars. Too many weapons, too little oversight. When a company lost control of its finances, it blackmails key Army officials and murders others to keep its drug running a secret.

And that’s bad.

Also, there’s the whole faux-family thing that is just silly.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Turner addresses how she feels about being forced to watch Samantha while Reacher goes out and does some recon. She’s just as capable, and Reacher knows it, but Reacher is not capable of caring for a teenage girl. Turner is the more capable human, and she knows it. And she tells us that, too.


  • The movie let slip a chance for Reacher to echo the iconic Terminator 2 Arnold line, “Your foster parents are dead.”
  • The small town sheriff arrest in the intro says that Reacher makes “a magnificent prophecy,” as if he had torn the words from the Bible.

Summary (21/68): 31%

I’m still trying to figure out what “Never Go Back” refers to.