Paramount Pictures

Movie reviews: ‘Jack Reacher’ sequel stalls; ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’ lags

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (PG-13)

Tom Cruise’s action movie career is beginning to feel far out of reach with “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” the not-so-hotly-anticipated follow-up to the 2012 original.

Even though his 2015 blockbuster franchise entry “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” felt fresh, you begin to feel with the unnecessary  “Jack Reacher” sequel that if you strip away all the gadgets and disguises from Cruise’s “Impossible” films, you’ll find a tired, old formula movie like “Never Go Back” – and in this case, it’s a substandard formula movie.

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Cruise begins “Never Go Back” in entertaining fashion, as he exposes a corrupt Texas border town for its human trafficking ways with relative ease. The reason the opening scene works is because Reacher uses his wit and intelligence to power the scene, rather than the over-exaggerated physical wherewithal the 54-year-old actor puts into play to dispatch groups of bad guys — four or more — at a time. From there, “Never Go Back” downshifts into action movie overdrive as it rolls through one ridiculous scene after the next.

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“Never Go Back” becomes a convoluted mess after its promising opening, as Reacher ventures to Washington, D.C., to meet up with Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), a decorated Army major who is railroaded with a trumped-up charge of espionage after two soldiers under her command turn up dead in Afghanistan. Busting Turner out of custody and becoming fugitives from the law, Turner, Reacher and a teen girl – who may be his daughter from a relationship 15 years earlier – find themselves targets of a corrupt military contracting conglomerate (gasp!) that is behind the ruse.

Fans of the original novel in a best-selling series by Lee Child may find more substance in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” even though the character is dramatically different in stature from page to screen. As for  everybody else, the film is an eye-rolling by-the-numbers borefest. Cruise is a passionate actor who usually pours his all into every project, by the end you feel like he’s sleepwalking through the role and completing it out of some sort of contractual obligation.

Cruise no doubt has talent, and it’s time he starts exploring other movie genres if he wants to remain a part of Hollywood’s fabric instead of retreading into familiar territory. Personally, I’d like to see the return of the power sleaze film executive Les Grossman from “Tropic Thunder.” Now that’s a character I can’t get enough of.

Lammometer: 4.5 out of 10

“Keeping Up With the Joneses” (PG-13)

If the spy comedy “Keeping Up With the Joneses” teaches us anything, Hollywood is having a really hard time keeping up with its quest for fresh and inspiring ideas. In short, the film has a talented cast but a tired premise, and fails to wring out even the mildest of laughs even though it stars a couple of very capable screen comedians.

Zack Galifianakis and Isla Fisher play Jeff and Karen Gaffney, a boring suburban couple who are awakened by their new, hot neighbors Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot), whose picture perfect life seems a bit off. Turns out the Joneses are undercover spies, and they’re on a mission that has something to do with Jeff’s ultra-secretive workplace.

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The core cast members in “Keeping Up With the Joneses” are extremely likable, but while the talent is there, the comedy – mostly delivered by Galifianakis and Fisher – is mildly amusing at best.  Hamm and Gadot are there for the action, but while  “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is billed as an action comedy, the first big action scene doesn’t even happen until halfway in. By the time it wraps up, you can’t help but feel nothing more than a tremendous waste of time and talent.

Spy comedies can be funny:  take Melissa McCarthy’s 2015 smash “Spy,” for example. But for what it is, “Keeping Up With the Joneses” lags far behind the competition.

Lammometer: 4.5 out of 10

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