There's a fine line between macho wish fulfillment and delusional fantasy, and "Jack Reacher" crosses it. Reacher, played by Tom Cruise in tight jeans and sometimes a shirt, is always the smartest, strongest and fastest, and the only thing slowing him down are all the gorgeous women in his way. When five guys pick a fight with Reacher, he feels only sadness -- for the hellacious beating they're about to receive.
It all gets pretty insufferable, but "Jack Reacher" doesn't seem to realize this. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects") is so caught up in his Mickey Spillane world that he can't tell when his movie starts tipping into self-parody. (Answer: Immediately.)
In this story, Reacher, a former military cop turned drifter, begins investigating the case of a Pittsburgh sniper accused of mowing down several innocent citizens. (Images of a nanny clutching a little girl may come too soon after the Sandy Hook shootings for some viewers; Paramount has excised some gunplay from the film's trailer.) Police Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) already has his man, but Reacher isn't convinced. The suspect's idealistic attorney, Helen Rodin (an ill-used Rosamund Pike), hires Reacher to find out more.
What he finds, weirdly enough, is Werner Herzog, the acclaimed German filmmaker, slumming as a finger-eating villain named The Zec. Herzog fans will relish the stunt casting, though others may wonder what purpose his character serves. (Answer: None.)
"Jack Reacher" is never truly hard-hitting (the PG-13 rating sees to that), nor is it terribly inventive (it's based on Lee Child's sturdy airport novel "One Shot"). In the end, it's just a corny slugfest that's impossible to take seriously.
PLOT Lee Child's paperback hero comes to the big screen in this thriller about a sniper shooting that may be more complicated than it seems.
RATING PG-13 (violence, language)
BOTTOM LINE Cruise still fits into his action-hero jeans, but this laughably macho role borders on self-parody. Kudos to German filmmaker Herzog, weirdly cast as the movie's villain, for keeping a straight face.