As anyone who’s read any of his 17 literary adventures (to date) can tell you, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is cooler than a snowman in Ray-Bans and harder than Fermat’s last theorem. He’s also 6’5” and 250lbs.
So to do him justice, any movie adaptation was going to require one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Literally. Yet here he is, played by an actor better physically suited to the lead in The Frankie Dettori Story.
But while the casting backlash is understandable, Child's more open-minded readers and those unfamiliar with his ex-military hero can rest assured that Cruise’s Reacher is a character of considerable screen substance.
Besides, Child himself has referred to Reacher's size as “a metaphor for an unstoppable force”. So in box office terms, he's certainly got his man.
And having turned an enigma into an Oscar with his script for The Usual Suspects, writer-director McQuarrie proves well up to the task of turning Reacher's ninth printed outing into a suitably impactful movie debut.
A sniper has killed five people on the Pittsburgh riverfront and all the evidence points to an army burn-out called Barr. But instead of the confession they expect, District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) and lead detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) are given three words: ‘Get Jack Reacher’.
Having dropped off the grid since leaving the military police, Reacher is, to all intents and purposes, 'a ghost'. So how do they find him? They don’t, he finds them.
And when he does he’s inclined to agree - it’s an open-and-shut case. But Barr named him for a reason, so after making a deal with the fall guy's defence lawyer Helen (Pike), Reacher begins to dig deeper.
As Helen is DA Rodin's daughter, i.e. opposing counsel, this creates a degree of conflict. But it's nothing like the grief they subsequently get from the lowlifes who work for the real shooter (not a spoiler; Jai Courtney is identified as the gunman from the start) and his paymaster 'The Zec' (Herzog), a Russian bogeyman with a gammy eye and a taste for his own fingers.
While the conspiracy at the root of it all turns out to be rather humdrum and the plot delivers no Keyser Soze-style revelations, McQuarrie attacks its procedural corners with impressive purpose. The investigation zips by.
Oscillating tonally between brutal and playful, the film revels in its own machismo though the self-awareness is taken to a ludicrous extreme when Helen is forced to spend an entire scene addressing Reacher's bare pecs.
She does, however, get to rise above her status as flirtation fodder during more serious and searching encounters with a victim's father and her dear old DA dad. For all its laddishness, the Reacher universe is all about the moral code.
Action-wise, McQuarrie's direction is functional rather than memorable, though he does hit an original high during the scene in which a pair of The Zec's more inept goons, sent to do a job on Reacher, turn out to be their own worst enemies.
So forget Damon's Bourne and think Swayze's Dalton. Because between the multitude of mano-a-mano fistfights and Robert Duvall's appearance as the crusty, Sam Elliott-style sidekick, it's clear we've wandered into the new Road House.
Of course, Reacher die-hards will remain up in arms. But for old-school action fans, this Jack's the lad.