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‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ review: Tom Cruise means business in new popcorn flick

Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever. (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

PLOT A former military man investigates criminal activity inside the U.S. Army.

CAST Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh

RATED PG-13 (strong violence, suggested sexuality)

LENGTH 1:58

BOTTOM LINE Cruise gives his all to a cardboard cutout action figure, making this sequel an enjoyable popcorn flick.

Jack Reacher, the ex-military loner created by novelist Lee Child, has an enviable skill. He can break limbs with ease and punch through a car window, but Reacher’s most impressive ability — the one that made audiences fall in love with him in 2012’s “Jack Reacher” — is the way he can tell his poor dumb attackers exactly what they’ll do next. And of course, they do it anyway. We all wish our real-world confrontations ended with our enemies writhing at our feet, and it’s the main reason “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is such an enjoyable Hollywood fantasy.

Well, that and Tom Cruise, who returns as Reacher, the all-American samurai who wanders the country righting wrongs. In the first film, written and directed with a knowing wink by Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), Cruise’s Reacher seemed a little more smug than necessary. Here, under the straight-ahead direction of Edward Zwick (an old Hollywood hand whose credits range from “Glory” to “Blood Diamond”), Cruise’s Reacher is all business, with just a hint of anger. Few actors could play such a cardboard role with absolute conviction, and Cruise tops the list.

“Never Go Back,” whose title only sounds meaningful, sets up its rudimentary plot with efficiency, introducing us to Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), a do-gooder framed for espionage. Though she and Reacher barely know each other, he’s convinced of her innocence and breaks her out of a military prison in a snappy sequence full of swift takedowns and quick disguises. The two go on the lam, tailed by a grinning, nameless assassin (a very good Patrick Heusinger). Meanwhile, a troubled teen, Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who just might be Reacher’s daughter, lands in the middle of the action with a thud. Still, she serves an important purpose: She gives our hero an emotional attachment that’s worth fighting for.

“Never Go Back” is so corny and predictable that it’s actually rather comforting. Cruise, at 54, remains a movie star through and through, as iconic as ever in his white T-shirt and well-worn jeans. We last see him in that classic outfit, hitchhiking down a lonesome highway to his next adventure, just as we knew we would.

4 more heroic Jacks

Think you know Jack about action heroes? Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise, is one of many fictional action heroes with that first name. Here are four other favorite butt-kicking Jacks.

JACK BAUER — Despite much talk about a big-screen version of “24,” Kiefer Sutherland’s heroics as Bauer have been confined as of now to the small screen. Entertainment Weekly ranked Bauer as one of the 20 All-Time Coolest Heroes in Pop Culture.

JACK RYAN — Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine and Ben Affleck have each played Ryan, but the definitive portrait belongs to Harrison Ford, who starred as Tom Clancy’s CIA operative in “Patriot Games” (1992) and “Clear and Present Danger” (1994).

JACK SLATER — His name may not be familiar, but the title “Last Action Hero” says everything you need to know about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character. Steven Spielberg was originally asked to helm the 1993 comic adventure but instead chose to make “Schindler’s List.”

JACK TRAVEN — Sandra Bullock may have been the driving force in the runaway-bus thriller “Speed” (1994), but it was Keanu Reeves as a cop named Jack who worked to steer her and the passengers on board to safety. Reeves opted not to return for the inferior 1997 sequel.

— Daniel Bubbeo

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