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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Jack Reacher and a couple of his newfound friends are interesting, but they’re forced back into a rather mundane storyline involving murder, weapons and drugs.

Independence, Missouri

Susan and Jack in New Orleans
Susan and Jack in New Orleans

Things start off with a Chuck Norris vibe. There’s a scene of carnage outside a Missouri diner. Inside, a bloody and bruised Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow) sits at the counter. Cops arrive. After being handcuffed, Jack explains the situation. He says the phone’s going to ring and the cops will be the ones leaving in handcuffs.

And so it comes to pass.

It’s a scene that’s featured in virtually all of the promotional materials. That’s not much of a surprise because, aside from another featured scene in which Jack smashes a car window with his bare fist (implausible), there really isn’t much action worth talking about.

Really, it’s something of a compliment to say this Jack Reacher adventure works as well as it does because of the lead protagonists and not because of the action. But those lead characters can only take the dull-ish story so far before a sense of tedium sets in.

Who’s Yo’ Daddy?

In addition to Jack, those lead characters include Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, Avengers: Age of Ultron), a military colleague who’s been charged with espionage against the United States in a foreign affair that serves as the catalyst for the movie’s main action.

And there’s Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh, TV’s Heroes Reborn). She’s a streetwise teenager roped into the messy situation by dint of paperwork being filed indicating she’s the daughter of Ex-Major Jack Reacher.

At one point there’s a cool spin on the male/female relationship dynamic. Jack and Susan get into an argument that plays off the characters’ interests and capabilities. It’s a great twist on what would traditionally be some sort of romantic entanglement. But, much like Cruise’s relationship with Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, the typical romantic angles are abandoned. That relationship between Jack and Susan works really well.

And so does the addition of Samantha. Together, they’re a formidable artificial nuclear family. These characters could easily be expanded upon and built into something fresh.

Live and Let Die

Alas, too much of Never Go Back feels like a retread.

Cruise reteams with director Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai). But the dearth of innovation in the storyline — which is based on a novel by series creator Lee Child — undermines their efforts.

With the climax set in New Orleans, there’s a gnawing wish for something cool. A gadget? A compelling, vile villain? Some interesting action set piece? Well, whatever it is, it’s likely something out of a Bond movie (or maybe even an Ethan Hunt adventure). But that “something” never materializes.

Instead, it’s a slow trod to the inevitable conclusion, as one fist fight follows another with minimal impact. There’s some tension over money, weapons, drugs, wheeling-dealing, murder, cover-ups, frame-ups, a bad guy with a sneer... Yadda, yadda, yadda.